Former U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the most tenured senator of all time and the long-standing chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was nicknamed “The King of Pork.” He fought so hard for his state, and sprinkled so much federal money around West Virginia that people came to call those grants and appropriations “Byrd Droppings.”
Whether you agreed with his tactics or not, he delivered for his state.
Today, there is $2 trillion of federal infrastructure money up for grabs, but instead of negotiating for some Byrd Droppings, Wyoming gave the folks in power the bird.
Wyoming currently has 99 dams rated “high hazard,” and 10% of our bridges have been deemed structurally deficient and will need repair or rebuilding. In order to avoid becoming the next Flint, Michigan, the state will need an estimated $500 million in infrastructure investments over the next 20 years to maintain a safe drinking water supply.
Plus, I’m sure there are plenty of out-of-work miners and rail workers who wouldn’t mind the jobs required to rebuild all that broken infrastructure.
On top of this, the state is going broke.
We need as much of that $2 trillion as possible, but I’m afraid we’re likely to see far less than our fair share.
Sen. Byrd served beside 11 presidents, beginning with Dwight Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. Some of those years his own Democratic party was in power, but plenty of years it was the other folks’. He no doubt preferred to have his team in the majority, but to Sen. Byrd, the party in power was always second fiddle to the task of taking care of the folks of West Virginia. Being a senator, and delivering for his state, was more important than which party was in control.
No doubt President Joe Biden and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) would love some support from the Republican side of Congress. And it doesn’t take much imagination to believe that they’d happily trade a few billion dollars of Byrd Droppings for that support. But instead of elbowing our way to the front of the line, as I’m sure Sen. Byrd would have done, Sen. Barrasso called it an “out of control socialist spending bill,” while Rep. Cheney hit the airwaves incorrectly saying that only 6% of the bill addresses infrastructure — having amazingly excluding items such as dams, internet, pipelines, ports and schools from the definition of infrastructure.
If Wyoming’s explicit goal was to get as little of the money as possible from the legislation, I’m not sure how we could have gotten off to a better start.
Unlike during the Reagan or Clinton eras, members of Congress today have only one goal: To be in power. It explains why not a single Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act and not a single Democrat voted for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The job of being in Congress has ceased to be about enacting legislation and fighting for constituents — but about positioning oneself for the next election.
Of course, the infrastructure bill needs work, and likely there is a lot of stuff in there America does not need. But our state is on its ear financially, our infrastructure is in jeopardy and we need to start taking care of ourselves before we take care of political parties.
Wyoming residents should make clear to our delegation that we want as many of those dollars as possible, and in the next election voters will judge them not by whether they killed the bill, but by how much they delivered for our state.
There are roughly $2 trillion dollars being allocated across 50 states and one has to ask: If Byrd were our senator, how might he react.