Admiring the Vision’s Expanse
Terry H. Schwadron
April 1, 2021
Even as Joe Biden was preparing to unveil details of his audacious long-awaited infrastructure and jobs spread over eight years, the Loyal Opposition was out to undercut the effort.
OK, that’s politics — about proposals from The Other Side and about the corporate taxes to pay for them. But you might have thought that there would be some acknowledgement about the sheer breadth of the ideas before the negativity flowed.
Here was Breitbart’s take: “Biden’s proposed $2.25 trillion ‘infrastructure’ bill will only include $650 billion in funds for roads, bridges, and ports” — as if a proposal that aims to fix 20,000 miles of roadway and 10,000 bridges and airports is an everyday thing. Breitbart complained that housing and help for the elderly and disabled proposed about the same cost as roads and bridges.
Those practical proposals are extraordinary all by themselves these days, of course. Republicans only accept government to build border walls — and police walls around protests. They promise a fight both over what is included and how to pay for it.
Apparently, the idea that Biden’s team is looking much, much more broadly about increasing broadband and electrification, at research and development towards long-term battery storage and electric vehicles, and making the country less energy wasteful is just so much fluff.
The dismissive Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the Republicans’ number two in the House, pre-empted Biden by insisting that any proposal to raise corporate taxes would fail, and saying the final total would be far less than $2 trillion.
Actually, what look to become two bills may total more than $4 trillion, which should send shivers down the Republican spines.
Whatever else we’re seeing here in the way of politics, Biden is endorsing Big Ideas — that increasingly rare view that government is a bringer of solutions that harkens to the greatest days of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s War on Poverty. It was “infrastructure week” every week of the Trump administration with nary a proposal emergent.
Despite the debate over just how big and expensive, we ought to be welcoming the discussion to pressure-boost jobs, projects and thinking that will set us up for decades of competitive development.
Anyone who owns a car, house or musical instrument knows that you don’t walk away from maintenance — which is exactly what we’ve done for years. The real question is why we haven’t been fixing roads, bridges or lead-free water pipes every year, clearing the boards for a discussion about how we boost our economic viability with selected investments in alternative energy and the related job training that will be needed for manufacture in a more fully automated age.
Ignore it, and you eventually find yourself with a big bill. Here it is.
Add in a needed generational change for climate, economic viability in a new era, and addressing the inequalities in our society and you have a whopping big proposal. Again, here it is.
Still, the scale of Biden’s proposals endorses the use of federal spending to address wide social and economic challenges as well as physical projects. As The New York Times noted, officials are saying that, if approved, the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s.
Spending is proposed in transportation, broadband, the electric grid, housing, jump-start advanced manufacturing and alternative energy projects. Roads, bridges and airports would be made more resilient to the effects of more extreme storms, floods and fires, accelerating with global warming.
But besides the long list of physical Biden’s approach also includes money to train millions of workers, initiatives to support labor unions and providers of in-home care for older and disabled Americans. Biden redefines infrastructure to include people, reports The Associated Press. At this point, it seems as if a second infrastructure and jobs effort will seek to address health care, child benefits and education, and the nation’s wage inequities separate from physical construction projects. Biden’s plan, for example, includes $16 billion to help coal and oil workers transition to work capping leaks on defunct oil wells and shutting down retired coal mines and $10 billion for a new “Civilian Climate Corps” as well as billions in tax credits for private facilities to accelerate climate-change refurbishing.
In the mix is support for advanced industries where we will be competing directly with China, which openly supports development of technology projects from solar energy chips to communications coding. Again, you’d think that Republicans, so eager to bash China, and thus would seek out those investments as especially bold.
Lots of Debate
There will be plenty of time for opponents to say No or Less, Much Less. Already, we’re clear that there will be attacks on whether this is a proper role of government, on the actual projects proposed, on any spending that is not devoted to construction and on how to pay. It seems unlikely that there will be agreement on one part without the rest.
As usual, attention is focusing early on swing votes of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WVa., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and the few so-called moderate Republicans. The general Republican line here is that these proposals spend too much, and would hurt American businesses for whom Biden would raise taxes from 21% of reported profit back to 28%, rejecting much of the impact of the tax cuts passed during the Trump administration.
But just as contentious will be the idea that this government should set an “electricity standard” that basically would set minimums for businesses to meet rules setting certain caps for power to be sourced from non-fossil fuel burning — a step towards climate-related change. By contrast, we could anticipate bipartisan support for electric charging stations that will be needed by electric vehicles already projected by automakers, or weather-proofing electric grid systems. Buying federal fleets of electric vehicles should be something that both parties embrace, but will become fodder in the fights over the total cost of the programs.
As The Hill.com said, there is a reason some call the multi-phase plan Biden’s New Deal. The goals are growth and jobs at a time when political analysts insist the just-enacted $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law will look like a cakewalk.
The question here is vision. The politics are about tactics.