Infrastructure Negotiations: There’s a lot moving and shaking on the infrastructure front this week. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: Infrastructure Negotiations
There’s a lot moving and shaking on the infrastructure front this week, but before diving in, let’s take a quick look at how we got here. Recall that at the end of March, President Biden unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which has since been trimmed to $1.7 trillion. He called it “a once-in-a-generation investment in America” that would fix roads and bridges, expand broadband internet access, and tackle climate change. Republicans countered with a $568 billion opening bid, which was then bumped up to $928 billion last week. Both sides are inching closer to a deal, but there is one looming question: how to pay for the package.
Biden wants to finance the proposal by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. Republicans, meanwhile, largely want to repurpose funds Congress has already approved for other projects, specifically unspent money earmarked for COVID-19 relief. The back and forth led Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday to call this “a fish-or-cut-bait moment,” meaning it’s time to stop dithering and either act or disengage.
Finally, yesterday, President Biden met with West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito to hash through these issues ahead of a June 7th deadline. Here’s what both sides are saying about ongoing infrastructure negotiations:
On The Left
Left-leaning commentators think President Biden and congressional Democrats should keep pushing forward no matter what. They don’t believe Republicans are being sincere about reaching a bipartisan agreement in order to help the GOP’s chances in the 2022 midterm elections.
All About the Midterms: Writing for the Washington Post, Paul Waldman outlines “The hidden truth that explains why Republicans don’t want an infrastructure deal.” In a nutshell, it’s all about future elections. “If the bill passes on a bipartisan basis, Biden gets a double victory: He can claim a big legislative win, and also tell voters that he has achieved his goal of bringing cooperation back to Washington. He’ll have done what other presidents failed to do, breaking the partisan logjam and showering benefits on communities across the country for years to come.” According to Waldman, however, this is “precisely why that’s the least desirable outcome from the GOP’s perspective: Biden will get the credit, and voters will be a little less likely to believe that Washington can’t get anything done. That would be terrible for Republicans, since dysfunction and gridlock increase voter dissatisfaction and produce a big win for the opposition party in midterm elections.”
Time for Democrats to Lead: Writing for CNN, Jeffrey Sachs elaborates, detailing why he thinks “the GOP infrastructure offer is a sham… based on three faulty premises.” First, he says only $257 billion of the Republicans’ $928 billion counteroffer “would go toward funding new public works projects, as the rest was already budgeted in baseline transportation spending.” Secondly, Sachs can’t believe the GOP has “the audacity to criticize Biden’s plan to tax corporations and the wealthiest Americans while saying that their plan would be paid for by ‘user fees,’ such as gasoline taxes, toll fees, and other charges, which would hit working-class Americans the hardest.” And third, Sachs thinks Biden’s initial $2.2 trillion plan is “actually quite moderate and easily affordable.” If the US GDP averages roughly “$28.2 trillion per year from fiscal years 2022 to 2031, or $282 trillion in total [then] the $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan over 10 years is therefore only about 0.8% of GDP per year.” Ultimately, Sachs says, “The US needs to move forward, and the President and Democrats in Congress need to lead.”
No Frills: Lastly, in an opinion article for The Hill, Albert Hunt argues that “The ‘frills’ of Biden’s infrastructure plan are real needs.” Hunt focuses primarily on “home health care or community service workers to provide care for the elderly and people with disabilities.” Critics like Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have said items like this constitute Biden’s “liberal wish list” but in reality are crucial to economic growth. Right now, “An inadequate supply of workers — there currently is a waiting list of 800,000 for home health care services — means more pressure on family members who have to cut back or drop out of their jobs.” Hunt adds that “One reason there is such a shortage of workers is the miserable pay,” which averages about $13 per hour, or “less than the average pay for parking attendants.” Hunt points out there is $400 billion earmarked in Biden’s infrastructure plan to tackle this problem. “Whether a ‘liberal wish list,’ or not, it’s incumbent upon critics to answer what — if anything — they would do about that 800,000 backlog,” Hunt writes. At the end of the day, “We pay more to people taking care of our cars than to those caring for our loved ones.”
On The Right
Conservatives argue that only a small portion of Biden’s spending proposal actually finances traditional infrastructure. They advocate for using leftover funds and think more debate is needed on the policy front.
Not Infrastructure: David Harsanyi thinks “Republicans Are Being Lured into an Infrastructure Trap.” In National Review, he argues “Biden’s bill has as little to do with genuine infrastructure as his COVID-relief bill had to do with the pandemic.” For example, “Approximately 7 percent of spending in the bill is aimed at boosting roads and bridges, or projects traditionally viewed as infrastructure by the public.” Moreover, “As it is, the United States already spends somewhere around $440 billion each year on infrastructure.” He asks: “Are conservatives interested in further nationalizing green policy, or building more useless choo-choo-train tracks, or bailing out unions again?” At the end of the day, Harsanyi writes, “There’s nothing saying Republicans have to help pass passion projects masquerading as an ‘infrastructure’ bill simply because Biden fashions himself the modern FDR. In fact, that is only more reason to stop him.”
Need Policy Compromise: The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board says “There’s no doubt that public works in many places have deteriorated, but whose fault is that? State and local governments are primarily responsible for financing and maintaining” regional infrastructure projects. Yet, despite necessary improvements, “Democrats who control big cities and blue states prioritize union wages, benefits, and inefficient work rules that increase construction and operating costs.” The editors say “This is why the first stretch of New York City’s Second Avenue subway, completed in 2017 at a cost of $2.5 billion per mile, is the most expensive subway line in the world.” Therefore, “More money will do little good without regulatory and permitting reforms that would speed up projects.” This is why they believe that “A real bipartisan deal means genuine policy compromise.” With that said, the editors think “Democrats want to take what the GOP will give them on spending and make no policy concessions.”
Strategy to Secure a Permanent Democratic Majority: Lastly, in the New York Post, Betsy McCaughey writes that “Biden’s ‘infrastructure’ plan is really a massive push to unionize the US workforce.” She further explains, saying Biden’s plan “cancels right-to-work laws in 27 states that protect workers from having to pay union dues if they don’t want to join.” Additionally, “It also rigs union elections by replacing secret balloting with a system called card check. Organizers will be able to see which workers vote ‘no’ and intimidate them.” This isn’t just a near-term speed bump for Republicans, but a longer-term issue for the country, McCaughey says. “The goal of the American Jobs Plan is to increase the ranks of dues-paying union members. When the next election rolls around, that will fund more campaign contributions to Democrats and more union help on Election Day.” Ultimately, “Unionizing America is the strategy to secure a permanent Democratic majority, the rights of rank-and-file workers be damned.”
Flag This: Infrastructure Negotiations
Americans are split on President Biden’s infrastructure proposal. According to an ABC News/Ipsos poll in early May, 52% back the president’s spending plan and a tax increase — including 80% of Democrats and 54% of independents. However, 47% — including 78% of Republicans — said taxes should remain the same even at the expense of the economy. More recently, at the end of May, a Data for Progress poll found 51% of voters prefer Biden’s proposal to the Republicans’ smaller alternative. The same survey showed that 82% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans support passing infrastructure through reconciliation.
Herein lies the rub. Although using budget reconciliation to bypass Republicans would be “quicker and easier,” according to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Democrats “don’t seem to have the votes for it.” This is because Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is seeking a bipartisan bill. On a related note, this illustrates how West Virginia and its representatives are now the lynchpin in the infrastructure debate. Case in point, West Virginia GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito was the person tasked with meeting Biden yesterday. If a deal can’t be reached, the whole country might be forced to collectively sing John Denver’s song about West Virginia: “Take me home, country roads.”
Flag Poll: Infrastructure Negotiations
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