Our Opinion: Daunting road ahead for Dems.' funding bills

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal at The Berkshire Eagle offices in 2014.

Rep. Richard Neal's characteristic optimism is refreshing, and that he can maintain it when it comes to the fate of two major funding bills in the Republican-controlled Senate is particularly admirable. ("Neal optimistic about big, Democrat-led spending bills," Eagle, June 23.) But too often the Senate is where good bills go to die and these worthy bills may meet the same fate unless Democrats can successfully cross the aisle to sway a few votes.

Republicans have already dug in their heels on the $3 trillion HEROES Act, a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide funding for economically struggling state and local governments, aid for local school districts, and another round of stimulus checks. Republicans deride it as a "liberal wish list," but a response to the pandemic should transcend politics, and the HEROES Act would benefit communities all across the country.

The $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill should have a better reception as Republicans at least pay lip service to the need to improve the nation's crumbling infrastructure. With an election approaching, perhaps this is the time when something will actually be accomplished.

Rep. Neal, the chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee and a member of the transportation committee, says the infrastructure bill includes funding for East-West passenger rail from Worcester to Pittsfield. The daunting logistics of this task, which would connect Rep. Neal's 1st Congressional District to Boston by rail, are not addressed in the bill, but the congressman says the plan is modeled upon the successful linkage of Springfield, Hartford and New Haven by rail using federal dollars.

The bill also includes $300 billion for improving highways and overdue bridge repairs, which could have appeal to Republican senators. The $70 billion for renewable energy projects is not likely to find favor as the GOP still owes its allegiance to the fossil fuel industry even though the renewable energy industry provides jobs and is the wave of the future. Funding to address pollution is also unlikely to pass muster with the GOP at a time when environmental regulations are being decimated.

"People are going to have to take into consideration water levels, rising tides," declared Rep. Neal to The Eagle's Jack Lyons. "That's science." But even though the the congressman believes that there are those in the White House who will embrace environmental and climate change funding, President Trump has been consistently anti-science and continues to deny the reality of climate change.

The president has talked about a transportation infrastructure effort for four years, during which time the nation's highway, rail and airport infrastructure have continued to decline. It's an embarrassment, as nations in Europe and Asia invest government funds in their state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure.

If the HEROES Act and infrastructure bills are combined and trimmed somewhat it is possible that they will win enough Republican support to become reality. The nation has added trillions of dollars to the deficit during the Trump years and adding $4.5 trillion more to our debt will put the nation in an extraordinary hole.

Rep. Neal is confident that an infrastructure bill at least will be passed this year. We're less confident, but an infrastructure bill, along with passage of the HEROES Act, would do wonders for the nation's pandemic-wracked economy and the people suffering from the impact of that damaged economy.