Although the chattering classes may have beat the term infrastructure into a hoary cliché, regular folks may see major benefits over time to their health and well-being from the Biden Administration’s finally passed, bipartisan $1 trillion bill that invests desperately needed money into the nation’s roads, highways, bridges, and more.
The law will send a giant funding surge into improving water quality and eliminating dangerous and antiquated lead pipes. This toxic threat, as evidenced in the mess in Flint, already has resulted in a $600-million-plus settlement — mostly to be paid by the state of Michigan — for residents of the lead-polluted town.
The infrastructure measure will help officials deal with polluting, nerve-wracking, time-sucking transportation logjams, financing repairs and upgrades to public transit, rail, ports, and airports from coast to coast.
Law enforcement and regulators will get added support in their efforts to make roads safer, with improved signage, elimination of hazards, and paying for protective bike and pedestrian paths. As the Washington Post reported:
“[T]he infrastructure bill … also calls on [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to require automatic braking for cars and the largest trucks, for a revamp of vehicle safety ratings, and requiring in-vehicle alerts to help stop children from being left in hot cars. The bill also seeks to address the design of roads, providing money for designs that prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.”
News organizations have delighted in finding in the infrastructure bill what film fans call an “Easter egg,” a clever and perhaps hidden feature, in this case a part of the law requiring automakers over the next few years to develop a high-tech safety feature in vehicles to keep impaired and intoxicated motorists from driving and imperiling themselves and others.
Details about the new anti-intoxication technology will be filled in over time. But safety officials estimate that it could save 10,000 lives annually, provided, in part, that it works and is rolled out well, so as to avoid the current, extremist revulsion about government efforts that aim to protect the public life and limb (think vaccines).
The infrastructure bill provides sums to advance the battle against climate change, as well as to deal with social inequities, notably with public works projects that — to their detriment — run over, through, and around poor and communities of color.
Big Pharma gets a jab in this law, as drug makers will be required to pay a rebate for certain, single-dose prescription meds covered under Medicare Part B and for which patients have leftovers. Proponents argue that drug makers make vials too big and force patients to pay for excess meds that they do not need or use.
With all the benefits of the infrastructure bill, the common sense questions that hang over it are big: Why did it take so long for Congress to pass? Will Americans yawn — or worse — at consequential legislating?
National politics have become so partisan and riven that Republicans who voted for a measure that would benefit the country and their constituents have been threatened and may even be punished by their own party, its members, and leaders. They are angry that the GOP gave a “victory” to Democrats and President Biden.
The infrastructure bill, along with a sizable social policy package pushed by the president and his allies, also have become giant catchalls for lawmakers’ hopes and plans — again, because Congress has become so narrowly divided and grid-locked that lawmakers can only seem to squeeze out bills that cover hundreds or thousands of pages and affect a myriad of interests.
Gone are the days when lawmakers introduced single-purpose bills, held hearings, debated measures on the House or Senate floors, and didn’t cater to political extremes, as occurs now.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal due to the cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
Our health and well-being, of course, rises and falls not only on medical services, but also on array of factors — the environment we live in (including the quality of our air and water), the safety and efficiency of the ways we get around, and what experts call “social determinants,” including whether we are rich or poor, as well as if we suffer discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, and sexual preference.
The nattering of broadcast talking heads aside, regular folks know that the country’s roads need major safety initiatives, as we veer toward setting vehicle fatality numbers not seen in years. We know it is unacceptable for communities to struggle with lead-tainted water. We want to keep our sanity in getting to work, school, and other life functions — affordably and safely, without getting trapped in and melting down over gridlock.
So, yeah, let’s cheer that our incumbent president accomplished in his first year what his predecessor boasted about but never accomplished in a four-year term. Let’s be glad that Democrats and Republicans could find common cause in voting for a bill that benefits so many. We have much work to do to improve all Americans lives and anything that overcomes rancorous, destructive partisanship is good to see.