The Upside of Life Out of Power

Under The Hood

Photo by Jacob Ogles: Vern Buchanan speaks with Greg Steube at a VIP event at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.

If Congress passes an infrastructure package in coming weeks, it likely will do so with no Republican votes. The caucus has effectively decided that with Democrats pushing billions in spending increases, it’s best to offer no quarter and make the majority in the House and Senate figure the balance to pass a bill without any help from the minority.

If any GOP votes end up getting on board, I suspect it won’t be any of the representatives from this region. Rep. Vern Buchanan, long a balanced budget advocate, has little motivation as he faces a primary challenge in 2022. Rep. Greg Steube, an arch-conservative, has made it clear he sees no reason to help Democrats pass anything whatsoever. Neither of Florida’s U.S. senators, Marco Rubio or Rick Scott, have reason to defect as Democrats can pass a spending bill without having to break a filibuster.

“They’ve got to sort it out on their side, whether they even have anything,” Buchanan said. He said the Democrats might be able to pass the infrastructure bill with some bipartisan votes, but as long as it’s tied to a massive multi-billion-Build Back Better agenda of social spending, there’s little incentive for the GOP to engage.

Politically, that actually makes sense. With conversation almost solely on spending, and any social benefits of the programs likely unrolling in slow-motion well after passage, there’s easy messaging in the midterms when Republicans need to gain just a handful of seats to retake the House, and just one to take over the Senate.

“What we’re doing right now is having alternatives to all these horrible policies the Democrats are doing,” Steube said. “It’s pretty easy to campaign these days when the Democrats have gone so far left and are liberal on all these policies.”

Granted, horrible is in the eye of the beholder. There’s much in Build Back Better, from school spending to family leave and sustainability, that would broadly poll well. But then those aren’t the items where the GOP will bang the drum. In a speech at a Sarasota fundraiser last week, Steube hit on immigration, inflation, Afghanistan flubs and investigations of Americans by the IRS and the FBI. It’s surely frustrating for Republicans to be completely out of power in Washington these days, but being in the minority means never having to explain nuanced policies. Pretty easy indeed.

But what of those popular parts like the infrastructure bill, that will need to be divvied out project by project across the U.S.? Does this mean Sarasota and Manatee will be shafted when it comes time to cut checks? Buchanan, co-chair of the Florida delegation and an eight-term incumbent, doubts that will matter much. Project funding will be based on need. To show favoritism based on who voted for the bill wouldn’t actually plat out that well.

“Once it gets done, these things usually even out pretty good,” Buchanan said. “But I think they (Democrats) got a big hurdle to get there. It’s just so tight in the Senate and in the House. You’re trying to find one vote or three votes. It’s tough to get anything done, and I can tell you that because we’ve been on the other end.”

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ MEDIA.

Photo by Jacob Ogles: Vern Buchanan speaks with Greg Steube at a VIP event at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota.

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