Republicans have made blanket opposition to big federal spending projects a cornerstone of their policy agenda. That means even historically bipartisan programs like infrastructure investment are DOA in Congress, at least for the time being.
So it came as a bit of a surprise to hear a GOP senator who’s up for re-election this cycle say on Fox News, “We can go over there and help them build their infrastructure up.”
That’s Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). He wasn’t talking about a forlorn corner of the United States, though. He was talking about Libya. And the ‘infrastructure’ he was talking about didn’t really include schools and bridges.
“One of the problems I have from leading from behind is when a day like this comes we don’t have the infrastructure in place that we could have,” Graham explained. Here he’s talking about the metaphorical infrastructure of U.S. forces and appointees on the ground who can help direct events. However, he soon moved on to talking about another type of infrastructure — the kind that helps with extracting oil.
“I’m glad it ended the way it did. If we would have kept American air power in the fight it would have been over quicker. Let’s get in on the ground. There is a lot of money to be made in the future in Libya. A lot of oil to be produced. Let’s get on the ground and help the Libyan people establish a democracy and a functioning economy based on free market principles. When it comes to weapons control. We need to get teams on the ground now that can assist this government to make sure that this stuff doesn’t fall into wrong hands. We don’t have much of a presence. There is an opening, get people on the ground.”
There’s likely to be major disagreement over what to do about Libya now between interventionists like Graham and a large faction of skeptics in Congress. But why spend there when austerity in the United States means workers are getting laid off and infrastructures decaying. We asked Graham in the Capitol after a vote on Thursday and he explained.
“I would say this is a loan, not a gift,” Graham said. “It is in our interest to get their oil back online, so we can have more supply, which will help our consumers, it is in our interest to get their economy moving forward, so a vacuum won’t be filled by extremists, and we will get the money we invest back. We have $34 billion in frozen assets we can draw from, it is in America’s interests for Libya to turn out well. It is in America’s interest for Libya to get back to producing oil to help the world’s oil supply. we’ll be now getting oil from a friend rather than a foe.”
Brian Fung contributed reporting.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.