The Infrastructure Debate: It’s shaping up to be an interesting week on the infrastructure front. 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: The Infrastructure Debate
It’s shaping up to be an interesting week on the infrastructure front. Negotiations over a package are expected to intensify in the coming days, as Republicans and President Joe Biden work to see if a bipartisan agreement is within reach, Kristina Peterson and Eliza Collins report for the Wall Street Journal. For context, last month Republicans countered President Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion spending plan with a $568 billion proposal of their own. Biden then announced another $1.8 trillion child-care and education plan in his joint address to Congress last week. Democrats believe it’s time to go big on infrastructure and social investment, but Biden campaigned on reaching across the aisle. Herein lies the rub: most Republicans are nervous about high levels of new spending, especially because so much money has been printed already in response to the pandemic. With that said, fiscal conservatism may not be the rallying cry it used to be for the GOP after former President Trump presided over an $8 trillion increase in the national debt, Alexander Bolton notes for The Hill. These are all the dynamics that make these infrastructure discussions so interesting. In regards to sentiment from each side, here’s how the right and left are reacting so far:
On The Right
The GOP thinks Democrats have co-opted the word “infrastructure” to encompass anything they want to spend money on. Instead, Republicans are seeking a bill focused exclusively on necessary physical infrastructure improvements, funding them without massive tax hikes.
In an editorial, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch says “Biden’s plan goes far beyond repairing dilapidated bridges and rebuilding highways.” Instead, the writers state it’s infused with social welfare items that may be desirable, but “a massive infrastructure package isn’t the place for them.” They predict a finalized bill that lands “somewhere between the GOP’s $568 billion plan and Biden’s $2 trillion fantasy,” with much “wrangling” over “how much to increase corporate income taxes to pay for it.” The Post-Dispatch contends that “Some [corporate tax] increase is essential” as “corporate America would benefit significantly from infrastructure upgrades.” Ultimately, they urge cooperation to get a more targeted deal done.
Meanwhile, Brian Riedl firmly opposes tax hikes and makes the case in National Review that existing funds can be used to invest in necessary infrastructure improvements. For example, state and local governments received billions through various COVID relief bills. In fact, they’re currently “sitting on more than $500 billion” from the federal government. As Riedl points out, this amount is significantly higher than the $235 billion that “government at all levels spends” on infrastructure. Additionally, he claims making small adjustments to the existing federal budget will help free up funds. Ultimately, Riedl says “Conservatives do not have to choose between ignoring infrastructure and committing trillions in new federal costs.” Instead, “Rather than let the Left set the terms of the debate,” he says “conservatives should ask themselves how they would approach infrastructure if they were setting the agenda.”
Lastly, Nicole Gelinas calls out Democrats for bastardizing the definition of “infrastructure.” In the Washington Examiner, she outlines the historical progression of the term up until the 1980s when the New York Times, reporting on Ronald Reagan, wrote “Highways and bridges…has come to be called infrastructure.” After that, Gelinas writes “The definition of ‘infrastructure’ stayed stable for four decades” until the Obama administration expanded it by “[overstating] the federal government’s role in paying for it.” She now sees Biden “making the next lexical jump, taking what was once an arcane word for physical assets and transforming it to mean anything the government deems worthy of spending.” Since “infrastructure” has a positive connotation among citizens of all ideologies, Gelinas claims Democrats are leveraging the term to cover their entire spending wish list.
On The Left
Most commentators on the left are urging the Biden administration to stay the course, and push forward with his massive spending proposals. Some moderates, however, are warning him not to employ scorched-earth tactics and instead seek compromise on a series of smaller bills.
Nita Kumar writes in POLITICO that Biden “believes action is more important than bipartisanship, and is convinced Americans will support him in his efforts.” As such, she states he is “prepared to back a congressional maneuver that would allow Senate Democrats to pass legislation without GOP support, perhaps within weeks,” according to “aides and lawmakers familiar with his thinking.” In his candid remarks to the press, Biden “made clear to reporters the day after his address to Congress that a small Republican package would not be enough,” Kumar reports. While the President is talking to Republicans, those discussions will only last for so long. Ultimately, Kumar says “The president and much of his team learned a lesson during the Obama years: They should not wait for Republicans to negotiate.”
Meanwhile, in the Washington Post, James Downie casts doubt on Biden’s ability to reach a compromise with Republicans, placing the blame on the GOP. He accuses Republicans of negotiating “while simultaneously trying to lock in the terms.” To emphasize his point, Downie describes a car dealership-style scenario wherein Republicans “made a lowball offer for a top-of-the-line model and then tried to argue: Well, there’s a deal to be had if we leave out the wheels.” Downie sees a $600 billion gap between what Republicans consider “core” infrastructure” and proposed Democratic spending. Ultimately Downie thinks “the White House [is] wise to the GOP’s infrastructure ruse,” saying Dems should push forward with or without Republicans, who “will be left in the cold while the country recovers.”
Finally, Former advisor to President Clinton, Douglas E. Schoen, pushes Biden to “heed the call for compromise and bipartisanship” in The Hill. He doesn’t believe Biden’s “sweeping plans” have been “evaluated for their practicality or feasibility” and thinks proposed tax increases will “hurt our economy by driving corporations to do business outside of the US.” Instead, Schoen promotes a “bipartisan compromise” on what he calls “true infrastructure components” (roads, bridges, etc.), addressing the remainder on “an issue-by-issue basis.” To get this done, he states Democrats should “reduce the size of corporate tax increases and reduce the size of any capital gains increase, in order to accommodate Republican lawmakers.” If they don’t heed this call, Schoen predicts “a blowout defeat in the midterms” similar to what he experienced more than 25 years ago as part of the Clinton administration.
Flag This: The Infrastructure Debate
Data on both bipartisanship and infrastructure is being cherry picked by outlets on both sides. For example, in his article for the Washington Post, James Downie cites “a new ABC News/Ipsos poll, [showing] 51 percent of Americans, including half of independents, say President Biden is doing ‘the right amount’ to compromise with Republicans. Just 22 percent say the same about Republicans vis-a-vis Biden.” These figures paint the GOP in a negative light. Meanwhile, The New York Post used the same exact poll to highlight that “Americans are split on whether President Biden should press forward with an infrastructure plan.” Currently, just fifty-two percent back the president’s spending proposal and a tax increase. These figures paint the President and Democrats in a negative light, suggesting that more compromise is needed to boost public support for his plan. Everyone loves infrastructure. Defining exactly what the word means, how much “it” will cost, and how to pay for “it” will be the next sticking points.
Flag Poll: In his speech, Biden said historically infrastructure has been a bipartisan undertaking. Do you agree? Use the comment section below to share your thoughts.