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Biden wants money for the Baltimore bridge. Good luck with that

Tuesday saw the catastrophic collision of a cargo ship with the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore early in the morning. Later in the day, the search for six missing workers who plunged into the water following the bridge’s collapse was called off. The tragedy devastated Baltimore’s working-class Latino immigrant community; those lost were described as “hard-working, humble men.”

In response, President Joe Biden said that he had directed his team “to move heaven and earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible.” But he also added that he and authorities in Maryland would “work with our partners in Congress” to get the plan “the support it needs.”

The president’s words are noble to be sure and under normal circumstances, this would spark immediate action. But anyone who has been following the 118th Congress knows normal does not exist.

For one, Congress just had a drawn-out fight about spending. Last week, the House and Senate passed the last of the spending bills for his current fiscal year. Their passage came six months late, thanks to “Florida Man” Matt Gaetz’s decision to file a motion to vacate against former speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy with a band of seven other rebels, prompting every Democrat to join in.

As we all know, that did not lead to regular order or to Republicans passing spending bills on time, but rather three weeks of unmitigated chaos in the House. And as soon as the House finally did pass the spending bills, they rewarded themselves by leaving for a two-week recess.

As I wrote last week, new Speaker Mike Johnson learned he can simply ignore the far-right of his party and simply pass spending bills with the help of most — if not, all — Democrats. But Johnson finally paid a price last week when Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, the right-wing firebrand and vocal supporter of Donald Trump, filed a motion to vacate against him.

Greene knows that no incentive exists for a Republican speaker to actually work with Democrats. And for Baltimore, a city that Trump called a “disgusting, rat- and rodent-infested mess” and a “very dangerous and filthy place”? Forget it.

Indeed, Republicans have not responded to crises even in areas where they are seen as more sympathetic.

Republicans battered the Biden administration over the head last year for its lack of response to a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. They argued that Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg did not care about an area of the country that was incredibly white, poor and working-class. They criticized Biden for not visiting East Palestine and going instead to Ukraine. Their criticisms, when aimed at Buttigieg, were likely intended to damage any future presidential run the Transportation Secretary might make.

But Congress has abdicated its responsibilities to East Palestine, too. Despite support from Senators — ranging from Republicans like Josh Hawley, JD Vance and Marco Rubio to Democrats like Sherrod Brown and John Fetterman — rail safety legislation has gone nowhere.

The tax credit bill that passed the House but has languished in the Senate because of Republican objections to the expanded Child Tax Credit includes relief for families in East Palestine. Still, more than a full year after the derailment of a train in the community, little incentive exists to provide relief.

In the same way, despite widespread support among Republicans for Israel — largely driven by evangelical Christians who subscribe to end-times theological ideas about the country — House Republicans have been fully incapable of providing aid to the country after the October 7 attack. In fact, while 166 Democrats voted against standalone legislation to assist Israel largely on the grounds that it did not provide aid to Ukraine, 14 Republicans also killed it.

The only way the United States was able to provide any aid to Israel came through the spending bill last week, which provided $3.3 billion in “grants only for Israel.”

And this does not even begin to touch on the disastrous negotiations that took place during the end of last year and the beginning of this year, wherein Republicans held up aid to Israel and Ukraine in exchange for restrictions to immigration and additional security measures on the US-Mexico border. They then ultimately killed that legislation once Trump turned against it.

This stands in stark contrast to how Congress functioned not too long ago. As friend of Inside Washington Jake Sherman over at Punchbowl News flagged, after a bridge in Minnesota collapsed on August 1, 2007, the House passed $250 million in relief two days later on a 420-1 line. The Senate passed it with an amendment by unanimous consent and kicked it back to the House, and it arrived at George W Bush’s desk five days after the collapse.

But that came when Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and a Republican controlled the White House. Nowadays, Republicans who control the House have a lot of reasons to demagogue the president and complain about spending rather than actually finding solutions.