Our opinion: Division reveals fractured Congress

A number of left-leaning pundits and Democratic politicians have enjoyed raking an Alabama Republican, U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer, over the coals the last few days.

Palmer drew the attention of the pundits and politicians for noting his own advocacy for a road construction project in Alabama and saying its inclusion in the recent infrastructure bill is key in “building a better future for the Birmingham metro area and central Alabama.”

Palmer, of course, voted against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. His critics — and we expect their criticism will extend to other Republicans in the coming weeks — see this as evidence of hypocrisy.

We see it not as evidence of hypocrisy, but as evidence of dysfunction in our U.S. Legislature.

The infrastructure bill will provide about $360 million for the Birmingham Northern Beltline, a six-lane highway from Birmingham to Bessemer. The project accounts for considerably less than 1% of the infrastructure bill’s $1.2 trillion in spending. Republicans who opposed the bill argue less than 10% of the $1.2 trillion goes to any kind of road or bridge construction or repair.

Palmer — or any other lawmaker — should not be blamed for voting against one bill with $1.2 trillion in expenditures just to get his district the less than 1% of the funding he considers a priority.

A legislature more suited to serving the needs of the public would pass smaller bills more frequently, allowing representatives and senators to debate and decide on the merits of proposals rather pursuing a cynical ploy to use the millions of dollars needed for projects that Representatives value as bait to get them to vote for spending $1.2 trillion.

The blame for this dysfunction does not rest entirely on Democrats. Republican obstructionism, such as a refusal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow almost anything passed in the Democratic-majority House in 2019 and 2020 to see a vote in the Senate, has led many Democrats to believe that a few giant bills are the only way they can pursue their agenda.

But this approach means lawmakers like Alabama’s Gary Palmer will have to decide if the $360 million that is crucial to their district is worth the $500 billion — or $700 billion or $900 billion — they consider to be wasteful spending and even counterproductive spending.

And it is absurd, if they decide the $360 million isn’t worth hundreds of billions of dollars in inappropriate expenditures, to pretend that this is hypocrisy.

It’s not hypocrisy. It’s a dysfunctional Congress.


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