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News Editorial Board: Infrastructure bill will move the U.S. ahead, close the gap with other nations

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Among the benefits Buffalo is likely to reap from the national infrastructure bill is replacement of dangerous lead water pipes.

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Here’s why the just-approved infrastructure bill is so important. In a nutshell, the United States had done little to modernize itself in recent decades, while other parts of the world have been on the march. We have fallen behind and that has its own cost.

Not only have other nations built newer roads and faster trains but, as The New York Times reported, they have better high-speed internet access, less expensive cellphone service and more easily accessed airports. In relative terms, David Leonhardt reported, American infrastructure is “decrepit.” Like other areas, Buffalo and Western New York have paid a price for that inattention.

That’s not just embarrassing or frustrating. It comes with costs: to individuals, to the economy, even to national security. That’s the price of an unwillingness to spend where it is necessary. It’s the outgrowth of giving too much weight to governmental austerity and too little to the nation’s ability to compete with the rest of the world.

It’s not the only such way the country has fallen dangerously behind. In matters of scientific discovery, the United States also lags. That’s why Congress this year approved the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. The bipartisan measure, pushed by Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, is aimed at relieving the national semiconductor shortage and strengthening the country’s tech sector to compete against China, a political, economic and military adversary. The measure will also establish technology hubs in areas where they haven’t existed before. Western New York is competing to win one of those designations.

Buffalo and the rest of Western New York will benefit from the infrastructure bill, as well, and in many ways. The American Rust Belt is plagued by lead water pipes. The bill will help Buffalo to replace at least some of them, lessening the menace of lead poisoning. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill needed to be larger to truly tackle the problem, but mindless politics intruded. This, at least, is a start.

Funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is crucial to Western New York’s future prosperity, will triple under the bill. Drinking and wastewater infrastructure will benefit, as will efforts to fight emerging contaminants, among them the manmade “forever chemicals” linked to cancers and other problems. They have been found in the Great Lakes.

Roads, bridges and public transit will be improved. The Buffalo Niagara International Airport is due to receive $37.5 million. Critically, areas that lack the modern necessity of high-speed internet will get it. That will be transformational, in Erie County and around the country. “It’s huge,” Schumer of the new program’s coming impact.

He’s not the only one who thinks so. In the House, 13 Republicans with enough sense to understand the need voted for the bill. Among them was Rep. Tom Reed of Corning, who said his 23rd Congressional District will benefit significantly.

Speaking of rural regions, he said, “it’s been very tough to get broadband into those areas that allow them to be competitive on the world stage.” This will change that.

In the Senate, the few Republican supporters included Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who called the measure a “godsend” for his state, which has “a lot of infrastructure needs.”

Such clear thinking was rare among Republicans, though. Many of them have lit their torches in an effort to scorch party members they say committed political treason by daring to agree with Democrats, even on matters of national need and public interest. In those overheated party precincts, rationality is deteriorating under the continuing and pernicious influence of former President Donald Trump.

Among those who went along with the party’s lunacy is Rep. Chris Jacobs of Orchard Park. He voted against the bill, citing its expense and following the party line on opposing Democrats regardless of the cost.

“I cannot support any bill that furthers the Democrats’ reckless agenda to burden small businesses and families with higher taxes and stick our grandchildren with the tab,” Jacobs said.

Note to the people of Jacobs’ 27th Congressional District: He thinks addressing your lack of broadband is reckless. He thinks your roads, bridges and sewer systems need no attention – or at least, not until Republicans can claim credit for the work.

That’s what the party’s congressional caucus has become. Its silence on Trump’s enormous budget deficits betrays its agenda. Its members object only to Democratic spending. Like evangelicals who have exposed their own hypocrisy – valuing right-wing politics more than old-time religion – their credibility is shattered. In the face of crying national need, Jacobs’ defense of his vote is farcical. He simply follows the path of least resistance.

Fortunately, the legislation passed and President Biden signed it. Experts say the bill, smaller than originally conceived, isn’t sufficient to meet the nation’s needs, but it’s a good and important start. For now, that’s enough.

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"It's the largest infusion for infrastructure for Western New York certainly in 70 years and maybe even longer," said Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat who compared the effort to the construction of the interstate highway system starting in the 1950s.

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