On the Senate floor Wednesday, Senator Mitch McConnell made his pitch that Republicans are the ones looking out for the working class, “whose wages have remained stubbornly flat.”
At a press conference in Northern Kentucky this afternoon, McConnell presented his new fundraising plan to replace an obsolete bridge connecting the state to Ohio: lowering the wage of construction workers.
At issue is the Brent Spence Bridge running over the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky, which is outdated and long in need of being replaced with a new bridge. However, that effort has stalled for many years, as there just aren’t enough federal Highway dollars coming through to make it happen. The current state proposal is to use tolls to fund a new bridge, but many locals are viscerally opposed to that idea. McConnell has long deflected questions on funding the bridge by saying that it is a state issue that he has nothing to do with. Back in the pre–Tea Party days—when McConnell was the King of Pork, running in 2008 on all of the gifts he brought back home—he could have just snuck in a giant earmark or two to get the project going, but ever since his new Republican colleagues stormed the castle in 2011, Mitch’s hands have been tied.
Today’s press conference was announced suddenly, billed as McConnell’s new secret plan to fund the bridge and save Kentuckians from paying tolls—pivoting away from his years of indifference. And that plan is to simply pay for the bridge by repealing the federal prevailing wage law so that workers are paid less, supposedly saving $13 billion over ten years. As McConnell and his campaign later said, Davis-Bacon is just a “depression-era law” and “red tape.” So much for those stubbornly flat wages, construction workers.
But how would $13 billion into the federal coffers over ten years help rebuild the Brent Spence, since the federal Highway Trust Fund is already running on fumes with dozens of other projects also waiting for funding? One of those projects is the Ohio River Bridges Project down the river in Louisville, whose residents are also set to pay bridge tolls—why is there no similar promise to them? Not to mention the fact that the repeal of Davis-Bacon—a longtime fantasy of conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation—is a pipe dream with no realistic chance of happening in Congress.
According to Amanda VanBenschoten of The Cincinnati Enquirer, reporters grilled McConnell with these questions, but he didn’t seem thrilled about going into too much detail.
Alison Lundergan Grimes ripped the McConnell plan as a desperate election-year flip-flop, and countered with a plan—released just before McConnell’s announcement—to free up $75 billion over ten years by cutting tax loopholes for the wealthy, such as corporate deductions for excessive stock options and the corporate jet loophole, and cracking down on companies’ use of overseas tax havens.
Grimes’s plan—which is similar to Obama’s infrastructure plan—would likely go nowhere in the current Congress, or whatever we’ll end up with next year, just as the case with McConnell’s plan to get rid of the prevailing wage. Unless something dramatic changes in the political landscape of Kentucky and DC, these Kentuckians will be paying tolls to cross the bridge, if it’s ever built. However, Grimes can at least present her option for the bridge to voters as being paid for by cutting off loopholes used by billionaires, while McConnell is protecting his wealthy friends so he can make sure that workers have a smaller paycheck.
For a Grimes campaign that is intent on portraying McConnell as an out-of-touch, uncaring career politician who is bought and paid for by wealthy CEOs, today’s press conference was likely music to their ears.