NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Unacceptable: Privatization appears to be a key facet of the bipartisan infrastructure deal

“We have a deal,” Pres­i­dent Biden remarked at the White House today, endors­ing a most­ly neolib­er­al group of sen­a­tors’ efforts to find a bipar­ti­san path for­ward on infra­struc­ture, the admin­is­tra­tion’s top polit­i­cal priority.

Maybe not.

For any bipar­ti­san bill to actu­al­ly hold up, it will need to have few, if any, Demo­c­ra­t­ic defec­tions. That’s because most Repub­li­cans sim­ply aren’t going to vote to give Joe Biden and Kamala Har­ris a leg­isla­tive vic­to­ry of any sort.

And even this sup­posed break­through could all just be an illu­sion: Biden made it clear today he’s only going to sign a bipar­ti­san bill if it’s simul­ta­ne­ous­ly accom­pa­nied by anoth­er bill that makes addi­tion­al investments.

“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not sign­ing it,” Biden told reporters, refer­ring to the bipar­ti­san frame­work. “It’s in tandem.”

Hard to imag­ine Repub­li­cans are going to accept that.

Let’s set aside that caveat for now, though, and take a look at what’s in this bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture frame­work — the part of the pack­age that is sup­pos­ed­ly going to win Repub­li­can votes. Only a few, of course: The num­ber of Repub­li­cans inter­est­ed in deal­mak­ing — both in the Sen­ate and in the House — is rather small.

That small group of Repub­li­cans nev­er­the­less does have some­thing rather impor­tant going for them: Demo­c­ra­t­ic col­leagues like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sine­ma who are des­per­ate for the good old days of bipar­ti­san deal­mak­ing, and cer­tain­ly don’t mind agree­ing to neolib­er­al non­sense like this:

Pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships, pri­vate activ­i­ty bonds, direct pay bonds and asset recy­cling for infra­struc­ture investment

Empha­sis is mine.

What’s “asset recy­cling”? Good ques­tion. It’s basi­cal­ly a cor­po­rate mum­bo jum­bo style phrase that means pri­va­ti­za­tion. Sort of like how “enhanced inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques” was devel­oped as a way to avoid say­ing tor­ture.


It’s just two words of jar­gon near the bot­tom of the infra­struc­ture plan the White House post­ed Thurs­day — “asset recy­cling” — but for a slew of invest­ing titans that longed to see that phrase, it’s rea­son to rejoice. The prospect of invest­ing in mas­sive U.S. gov­ern­ment projects — say, by leas­ing an air­port and reap­ing rev­enue for decades — has tan­ta­lized Wall Street ever since talk about a big infra­struc­ture push broke out in the wake of 2008 finan­cial crisis.

The doc­u­ment the White House pub­lished today is only a frame­work and does­n’t con­tain details. But Wall Streeters are already get­ting excit­ed:

“The bipar­ti­san group that put this bill togeth­er has been keen­ly focused on the impor­tance of pri­vate invest­ment, includ­ing the con­cept of asset recy­cling, which has been cham­pi­oned by infra­struc­ture funds for a num­ber of years,” said DJ Grib­bin, the for­mer spe­cial assis­tant to the pres­i­dent for infra­struc­ture pol­i­cy from 2017 to 2018 who is also a senior oper­at­ing part­ner at Stone­peak Infra­struc­ture Partners.

Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s admin­is­tra­tion could kick off an asset-recy­cling ini­tia­tive with fed­er­al gov­ern­ment-owned pow­er and gen­er­a­tion com­pa­nies such as the Ten­nessee Val­ley Author­i­ty and the Bon­neville Pow­er Admin­is­tra­tion, Grib­bin said. He added that gov­ern­ment-owned dams around the coun­try that gen­er­ate hydro­elec­tric pow­er and haven’t been well main­tained could also be part of the pro­gram. Oth­er fed­er­al­ly-owned infra­struc­ture that investors have long cov­et­ed include the Ronald Rea­gan Wash­ing­ton Nation­al Air­port and Wash­ing­ton Dulles Inter­na­tion­al Airport.

Empha­sis is mine.

Every time a new pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion arrives in D.C., whether Repub­li­can or Demo­c­ra­t­ic, there always seems to be some kind of a threat to the Bon­neville Pow­er Admin­is­tra­tion. Bas­ta! Enough! The BPA belongs to the people.

Dur­ing the Trump years, we set up a web­site to track threats to BPA’s future… Pro­tect NW Pow­er. It’s nice to have that in place now that BPA is seem­ing­ly once again at risk… this time, inde­fen­si­bly, from a Demo­c­ra­t­ic administration.

Now is the time to put a stop to this absur­di­ty. Like our pub­lic lands, pub­lic infra­struc­ture sys­tems such as the TVA and the Pacif­ic North­west-based BPA are nation­al trea­sures. They can­not and they must not be privatized.

No leas­ing. No sales.

No all around.

Pub­lic infra­struc­ture must stay in pub­lic hands.

If this “asset recy­cling” non­sense is not tak­en out of this frame­work, then the frame­work is inde­fen­si­ble. Peri­od. Pri­va­ti­za­tion is a no-go. A nonstarter.

Hand­ing over the peo­ple’s infra­struc­ture to Wall Street would be a mas­sive betray­al of work done over decades by Demo­c­ra­t­ic elect­ed lead­ers to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple. The Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion made a major unforced error by endors­ing a frame­work with pri­va­ti­za­tion as one of its key facets.

For­tu­nate­ly, what’s been agreed to thus far is mere­ly a frame­work. This is being called a deal, but it’s def­i­nite­ly not a done deal. It could eas­i­ly fall apart.

And this iter­a­tion of it prob­a­bly deserves to fall apart.

Pro­gres­sive mem­bers of Con­gress need to make it stark­ly clear to the Biden admin­is­tra­tion that they will with­hold their votes for infra­struc­ture leg­is­la­tion unless pri­va­ti­za­tion is off the table. What is ulti­mate­ly impor­tant and need­ed is leg­is­la­tion that invests in the coun­try’s future. The process needs to serve the out­come — that out­come — rather than the out­come serv­ing the process.

As Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez has not­ed, the group that nego­ti­at­ed this “deal” is unrep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Unit­ed States:

The diver­si­ty of this “bipar­ti­san coali­tion” pret­ty per­fect­ly con­veys which com­mu­ni­ties get cen­tered and which get left behind when lead­ers pri­or­i­tize bipar­ti­san deal­mak­ing over inclu­sive law­mak­ing (which pri­or­i­tizes deliv­er­ing the most impact pos­si­ble for the most people).

This is why a bipar­ti­san pack­age alone isn’t accept­able. The exclu­sion & denial of our com­mu­ni­ties is what D.C. bipar­ti­san deals require. That’s how you get GOP [Repub­li­cans] on board: don’t do much/any for the work­ing class & low income, or women, or peo­ple of col­or com­mu­ni­ties, or unions, etc. We must do more.

That’s why folks can some­times come across as care­less when say­ing “well isn’t some­thing bet­ter than nothing?”

For many com­mu­ni­ties, their not hav­ing a seat at the table is a pre­con­di­tion for bipar­ti­san deals to work in the first place, and that’s not only seen as nor­mal, but valued.

Mean­while, when rep­re­sen­ta­tives of exclud­ed com­mu­ni­ties object to the exclu­sion & mar­gin­al­iza­tion required to make many bipar­ti­san deals work, they’re dis­missed as “unrea­son­able.”

So who/what often ben­e­fits from this type of bipar­ti­san deal­mak­ing? Cor­po­ra­tions & struc­tur­al racism.

This is not to say that any/all bipar­ti­san deals are bad, but it’s to ask peo­ple to actu­al­ly read what’s inside them instead of assume bipar­ti­san =good.

“Isn’t some­thing bet­ter than noth­ing” assumes that none of the indi­vid­u­als involved agreed to harm­ful poli­cies. A huge assumption.

When you con­sid­er who was at the table, and who was­n’t, it’s eas­i­er to under­stand how pri­va­ti­za­tion became such a big facet of this framework.

Like the say­ing goes, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

Wall Street was well rep­re­sent­ed in these frame­work negotiations.

The diverse con­stituen­cies that make up the Amer­i­can pub­lic? Not so much.

The impor­tant thing to remem­ber is that any leg­is­la­tion that’s going to reach Joe Biden’s desk will require pro­gres­sive sup­port. There aren’t enough Repub­li­can votes to pass a bipar­ti­san deal that’s unac­cept­able to progressives.

If Pres­i­dent Biden won’t put his foot down and pro­tect trea­sures like the BPA, then that cru­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty must be tak­en up by mem­bers of Con­gress, like our own Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jaya­pal (D‑Washington, 7th District).

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