You haven’t heard the last of Ida just yet.
The shocking cross-country devastation wrought by Hurricane Ida is set to play a starring role in Washington D.C. in the coming weeks as President Biden seeks to push his infrastructure bills through Congress.
From the New York area to the Gulf Coast, the jarring damage wrought by 150-mile per hour winds and also flooded roads and subways will be Exhibit A when lawmakers return this week to tackle the two sprawling plans worth a combined $4.5 trillion.
“Global warming is upon us,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “When you get all the changes that we have seen in weather, that’s not a coincidence. … It’s going to get worse and worse and worse, unless we do something about it.”
Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plan to use Ida as proof positive of the need to upgrade the nation’s aging infrastructure network.
But Democrats still face a daunting task to simultaneously pass both sprawling plans, which they are pushing through Congress in a delicate political tightrope act set to reach a climax by an end of September deadline.
Ida killed at least 66 people and did still-untallied billions in damage. Other storms have inflicted similar tolls, but Ida’s 1,800 mile path of destruction is completely unprecedented.
After knocking out power and ripping off roofs as a Category 4 monster deep in the bayous of Louisiana, the remnants of Ida roared into the Northeast. It sent never before seen torrents of water surging into basement apartments, engulfed cars on suburban highways and overwhelmed urban sewage systems unable to handle so much rain in such a short time.
Many Republicans agree that Ida is a wake-up call, especially when it comes to cash for traditional road, bridge and rail repairs.
“We’re going to make our country more resilient to natural disasters, whatever they are, we have to start preparing now,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), whose coastal state is being pummeled regularly by once-unthinkable storms.
“I’m sure hoping that Republicans look around my state, see this damage and say, ‘If there’s money for resiliency, money to harden the grid, money to help sewer and water, then maybe this is something we should be for.”
Cassidy is a lead negotiator on the $1.5 trillion bipartisan bill that passed with significant GOP support in the Senate.
Democrats are insisting on passing both that bill and a separate $3.5 trillion plan aimed at helping families and combating climate change.
They portray the second bill as an essential part of a wholistic approach to the challenges posed by climate change and other woes.
“It’s so imperative to pass the two bills,” Schumer said.
In fact, progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) say they won’t support the bipartisan bill without the second one, which also includes goodies like free pre-school and community college and expanded health benefits.
But Republicans won’t budge on the bigger bill, which they portray as a pie-in-the-sky distraction from actual bricks-and-mortar infrastructure that would protect the nation from the next generation of killer storms.
For now, Biden himself has sought to stay a bit above what is sure to turn into fierce political warfare on Capitol Hill.
During a visit to storm-battered Louisiana, the president sought to focus on what many in both parties agree needs to be done. He’ll likely bring the same message of unity on Tuesday when he visits New York and New Jersey to survey the catastrophic damage.
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