WilliamsonCountyGOP_Pompeo_2021-12 Marsha Blackburn

Senator Marsha Blackburn addresses attendees at a Williamson County GOP event on August 7, 2021, featuring guest speaker former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

On Monday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn spoke to recent ongoings in the President Joe Biden administration following a meeting with Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson.

Blackburn was visiting with Anderson as part of her annual tour of Tennessee's 95 counties, after which she spoke with members of the media about her thoughts on the latest political battles going on in Washington; primarily, the infrastructure and reconciliation bills.

Infrastructure and reconciliation bills

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a sweeping piece of legislation that includes $1.2 trillion in infrastructure improvements over an eight year period. Despite the $1.2 trillion figure, the bill only includes $550 billion in new spending, with the remaining $650 billion being spending that had already been planned to be allocated toward infrastructure over the next eight years.

The most expensive line item in the bill is $312 billion toward transportation, which includes $109 billion toward roads and bridges, $66 billion toward passenger and freight rails and $49 billion toward public transit.

Roughly $266 billion is allocated toward "other infrastructure," which includes $65 billion toward broadband infrastructure, $73 billion toward power and grid infrastructure and $55 billion toward water infrastructure.

The infrastructure bill has passed in both the U.S. House and Senate, and is expected to be signed by Biden in the coming days.

The reconciliation bill — also known as the Build Back Better Act — is a bill that proposes measures to establish a stronger social safety net as well as combat climate change.

Included in the bill is $400 billion for child care and preschool, $150 billion toward affordable housing, an extension on the child tax credit and the expansion of Medicare benefits to include hearing services.

Originally envisioned as being a $6 trillion package to be spent over 10 years, the bill was slowly whittled down to $1.75 trillion after some of its larger provisions were cut.

Among the cut provisions include two free years of community college, something Biden campaigned strongly on but was ultimately cut after opposition from four-year college lobbyists who voiced fears that free community college would "cut into their bottom lines."

Also cut from the bill was the ability for the U.S. government to negotiate lower drug prices, something supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans. Paid family and medical leave was also cut from the bill, another provision supported by a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.

Blackburn responds 

When asked of her thoughts regarding the recently passed infrastructure bill, Blackburn alleged that the bill had little to do with actual infrastructure, and more to do with "the Green New Deal or money for unions."

"The so-called infrastructure bill, turns out very little of it — no more than 20 percent — has anything to do with roads, bridges, highways, railways, runways and broadband," Blackburn said.

"The rest of it has to do with projects that are more environmental; the Green New Deal or money for unions. What Tennesseans want to see is their tax dollars being used to improve roads, bridges and transit, and to close the digital divide with broadband."

Despite Blackburn's claims, the bill does address those things: roads, bridges, transit and improved broadband access. The only inclusions in the infrastructure bill that could be considered environmental are $47 billion for climate resilience, which helps communities weather natural disasters, $21 billion for environmental remediation, which is the removal of pollutants from water, $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure and $7.5 billion for electric busses and transit.

Collectively, these provisions account for $83 billion — less than 7 percent of the $1.2 trillion package, or 15 percent if counting just the $550 billion in new spending.

The Green New Deal is a separate legislative agenda that has received a mixed response from the Biden administration. 

One of the Green New Deal's biggest champions, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, actually voted against Biden's infrastructure bill in the House. 

Ocasio-Cortez said she was in part concerned with the bill's reliance on an increase in carbon emissions in the planned construction projects. She also critiqued the lack of full replacements for the nation's lead piping system. 

Regarding Blackburn's comments about "money for unions," the bill also includes billions of dollars' worth of grants toward things like capital construction projects and electric vehicle charging stations. The bill stipulates that union leadership will be represented on the advisory boards that award these grants, meaning more pro-union entities are likely to be favored in the selection process.

A large percentage of the $65 billion toward broadband infrastructure will also favor companies "with a record of following labor and employment laws," another provision that could favor pro-union entities and companies.

Blackburn also touched on the Build Back Better Act, which she referred to as the "build back broke agenda."

"This build back better plan is really a build back broke agenda because what it does is raise taxes on the middle class," Blackburn said.

"What they want [is] government control of your children, of education, of health care, of your bank account, they want to raise your taxes, they want to force the Green New Deal... this is what they're trying to accomplish. It is a socialist agenda."

The bill, however, prohibits higher taxes for families making less than $400,000 a year, and instead only raises taxes on the wealthiest of Americans, including raising the top tax rate for those making more than $413,000 a year from 37 to 39.6 percent. The bill would also increase the federal rate on capital gains from 23.8 to 43.4 percent.

Blackburn also commented on Biden's new record-low approval ratings, with a USA Today poll released Monday showing Biden's approval rating at 38 percent.

"I think there was an expectation that [people] were voting for a moderate Joe Biden, and as someone here in Williamson County said to me the other day, they said 'I voted for Joe Biden, I didn't vote for Bernie Sanders, but what I have is AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and Bernie Sanders and that is not what I wanted,'" Blackburn said.

"That, I think, is being something very different than [he] campaigned [on], and that is what has caused his poll numbers to sink, and Vice President [Kamala] Harris' numbers to bottom out."

FiveThirtyEight shows that Biden's cumulative split in disapproval and approval polls is at a 51.3 percent disapproval rating and a 42.8 percent approval rating. 

The website shows that Biden's ratings track behind former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush at this mark but just ahead of former President Donald Trump. 

Biden's descent in August tends to point to two factors: the crisis in Afghanistan at the time of the United State's troops withdrawal and the rise of the Delta variant. Fervor over vaccine mandates and school board policies have also played a part in recent political discourses.

Though, passed bills could help him see a resurgence as his legislative promises begin to take more shape, as could the Delta variant's subsiding and economic gains.