There was more than one moment during last Tuesday’s State of the Union Address in which Joe Biden had a twinkle in his eye. One of those moments occurred when he mentioned the fact that certain Republican members of Congress voted against his infrastructure bill, which became law last year. (See, https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/3684 ) I’m paraphrasing here, but what he said, in so many words, was that he would be visiting some of their districts and would make sure the public works projects went ahead as scheduled, in spite of their negative votes, because he had promised to be “President of all the people.” Spirited Reasoners detected the President’s tongue planted firmly within his cheek as he spoke those words. We believe President Biden can’t wait to get out on the campaign trail to let voters in certain districts know how their representatives voted on that bill.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are one of those naysayers. Now imagine that you are running for reelection against a Democrat who stresses the need for updated infrastructure during the 2024 election campaign. Can you not feel the power of the sledgehammer that is about to be wielded against you?
Here’s how it will work: Let’s say there are some old bridges in your Congressional district that are badly in need of being replaced. Or perhaps there’s a lack of broadband access. Or maybe your district was hit hard by a recent fire, hurricane, tornado, flood, or other natural disaster and is in need of a more resilient power grid. Or maybe your water system is having issues. Whatever the problem happens to be in your particular district, don’t be surprised when Air Force One swoops in for the campaign photo op of your Democratic opponent standing next to President Biden at that very spot—the old bridge, the family farm lacking wi-fi access, the downed power lines, the aging water purification system. At some point, the President will remind the crowd that their incumbent member of Congress, who happens to be a Republican naysayer, voted against the imminent upgrade. But hey, not to worry! (he will say). I’m here to make sure the district gets its much-needed infrastructure improvement. Oh, and by the way, there’s a qualified Democratic challenger running against that Republican incumbent, one who understands much better the infrastructure needs of this district.
Throughout the history of the United States, no single factor (with the possible exception of wartime necessity) has been more effective in the reelection of incumbent Presidents than the power of pork. You say you don’t you want more jobs and dollars in your district? Don’t you understand that if those federal dollars aren’t spent here, then they might be spent in someone else’s district? Why in the world would you want to elect a representative who isn’t willing to fight tooth and nail to upgrade this district’s decaying infrastructure?
What will make the infrastructure argument especially powerful in 2024 is the manner in which it pits business leaders—many of whom traditionally vote for Republican candidates—against the Republican naysayers. That’s because businesses, both small and large, benefit from the direct and indirect opportunities arising from major construction projects.
Whatever the infrastructure need happens to be in your Congressional district, you can expect to see it featured heavily in next year’s campaign ads. Those who voted for the infrastructure bill will enjoy an easy advantage. Those who voted against the bill are likely to face a more difficult fight for reelection than would otherwise be expected.