Biden officials see second chance to promote last year’s infrastructure law with projects underway

Starting Tuesday, Biden administration officials will begin a week-long blitz across the country — including in many midterm battleground states, where they will appear with governors, senators and members of Congress – with a pitch focused on local attention and media. coverage, either through in-person or virtual events with local officials.

It comes after multiple conversations over the summer with the Cabinet Secretaries most focused on implementing the projects in which infrastructure co-ordinator Mitch Landrieu pointed out they had mis-sold the bill. They talked too much about winning Washington and less about how their plans would make a difference in people’s lives.
But now administration officials think they’re about to get a second chance: The way the law was structured, real money — rather than promises of what might be — was always to start. to sink in August. And they hope to glean a bigger picture of Biden’s victories from other major bills he’s been through in recent weeks.

There are more than 5,300 infrastructure projects underway across the country — in every state and several in every congressional district, from the smallest that Landrieu calls “spreading the peanut butter” of law funding to the massive ones. . Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg dubbed their projects a “cathedral”. They range from laying cables for rural broadband to modernizing terminals at Los Angeles International Airport. Administration officials hope that gives them enough to make the infrastructure worthwhile — a perpetual problem for politicians, regardless of how many voters say it’s important to them.

“The conversation in Washington has always been about the next fight, the next hill, the next bill – so much so that I think some people seeing the tussle on ‘Build Back Better’ kind of lost sight of it. the fact that the infrastructure act has passed,” Buttigieg said, referring to the fight over Biden’s signature legislative package that finally passed in a scaled-down version earlier in August after months of intrapartisan wrangling. .

“It’s important for them to know that this bridge over the Chattanooga Rail Yard that we just announced is coming to you because the president’s vision and his ability to work with Congress, on both sides of the aisle, to get funding for it,” he added.

And there will be signs: Thousands of them will soon be stepping onto projects across the country. Some red and blue, some green and white, all with “Funded By the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law” in large letters and the White House’s “Building a Better America” ​​logo, with “President Joe Biden” written in full environment. Oversized novelty checks to be distributed at construction sites were considered, but ultimately rejected. There was no need, administration officials decided, to reinforce the focus on the law’s $1 trillion prize.

Administration officials admit, however, that they failed to get the word out for the first nine months after it was passed, with the law getting lost in a year-long reshuffling of infighting and bureaucracy between other parties. .

“You can’t just snap your fingers like the country is ready on day one to make sure everything is built by day 30. That’s not how massive infrastructure projects work,” Landrieu told CNN. “Just because it’s not at the top of people’s minds doesn’t mean we can’t do great things.”

“We have to do some work,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged as she left the White House last week after Biden signed the Cut Inflation Act, the sweeping bill of $750 billion on health care, taxes and climate, which administration officials are also hitting. the road to everything.

White House officials are trying to learn from the credit-hoarding methods of former President Donald Trump, who went so far as to have a letter with his signature placed in boxes of food distributed at the start of the pandemic . They want to go beyond former President Barack Obama’s efforts around his 2009 stimulus bill – partly because they have more money to announce now, and partly because they have l The impression that Obama’s efforts, which included more discreet signs, did not go far. sufficient.

The administration-led effort comes as House Majority PAC, the group that works to retain the narrow majority of Democrats in the House, began running a new ad with the slogan “Democrats – Delivering for American Families.” “. The spot argues that after Biden inherited a “deeply damaged economy,” Democrats “got to work,” running through a list of accomplishments including “fixing our roads and bridges” and enabling Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, which was part of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

“The president says, ‘Look, I can’t sit in my office and turn a knob and turn the gas down. I can’t sit in my office and drive down inflation,” Landrieu said. “But what I can do is ask Congress and my team to help me cut the costs of everything. the world in other areas and to extract efficiencies from the system. That’s where the infrastructure bill comes in.”

‘Why ‘Love Actually’ starts and ends in an airport’

But communication problems persist. Sitting in his office in the Old Executive Office Building, Landrieu said he struggled to even talk about infrastructure with his mother. She complained that the streets leading to her doctor’s office were in poor condition. Now she complains that the repairs are preventing her from getting to her doctor in time.

“I said, ‘Mom, you can’t have it both ways,'” Landrieu said. “And her response was, ‘I can have it any way I want because I’m your mom. “”

Landrieu, who is traveling to New Mexico and Pennsylvania this week, said he accepts that most voters aren’t that different and it’s hard to take advantage of infrastructure, even though people say it’s is important to them.

Mitch Landrieu, seen here speaking at the National Counties Association legislative conference in February, is the White House infrastructure coordinator.

“People are going to be frustrated because it’s not too fast, then they’re going to be frustrated because it’s building and it’s not practical,” Landrieu said. “And when it’s done, people may not even remember it started.”

Buttigieg, in an interview in his office, recalled a mid-August visit to Phoenix and Tucson, where he spoke with a business owner who talked about how much opening a new bridge would mean. in terms of saving time and money on labor and gas by offering a more direct route.

He appeared with Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona, who is in an uphill battle for re-election this year, and made sure to tell the crowd that he and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the other Democratic senator from the State, “were central players in negotiating this bipartisan infrastructure. The law that directly funds projects like the fantastic we celebrate today.”

With a model of a new Amtrak train running on tracks on a conference table in his office, Buttigieg – which is hitting Florida, Oklahoma, Nevada, Minnesota, Ohio and New Hampshire this week – has pointed out the conversation he wants to have about infrastructure, admitting he was a little nerdy.

“We’re talking about the person who lives in Tell City [Indiana] and has a job at the foundry and is much better off now that port is improved…or the woman I met in New Jersey who described not being the mother she wanted to be because of her commute the former South Bend, Indiana mayor said.

“Transportation is actually at least the backdrop, sometimes the basis, for a lot of these really important things in our lives. That’s why ‘Love Actually’ begins and ends in an airport.”

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