This is Not Your Father’s Infrastructure

Biden Refines the Term for the 21st Century – Republicans are “Confused”


 So Just What is Infrastructure?

Infrastructure, in the simplest use of the term, refers to the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities needed for the operation of a society or a specific enterprise. It is the hardware and structures we need to make everything work, effectively and safely.

It also tends to be something often neglected and overlooked. Infrastructure takes maintenance, updates, replacements, and creation in new elements. Fail to do these things, and your country begins to look like a Third World entity.

Did I mention that the US currently is rated about number 13 in terms of countries that invest in its infrastructure? Not even in the top 10. President Biden, to his credit sees this as both a massive failure and an unprecedented opportunity. More on that shortly.

The Republicans Have Not 1, Not 2, But 3 Problems with All This

 You may recall that the term “Infrastructure Week” got to be a joke during the Trump administration. More times than I can remember, they promised a big infrastructure rollout. It never happened. Trump himself always deflected the focus with some inane Tweet. More importantly, they never put together an actual plan – either content or funding. Not one, in four years.

This was actually a surprise to me, on several counts. Trump was, on paper at least, a construction guy. This stuff should have been second nature to him. Secondly, the needs were obvious and substantial. The tally of crumbling bridges and overage powerplants, for example, is long. Thirdly, this stuff is almost always wildly popular. It is a win politically

 But we had an administration with zero skill sets for crafting legislation or enacting governance. We had a Congress equally incapable and uninterested in actually legislating. Now we have an administration and a Congress (barely, by vote count) that intends to get all this done for real. Republicans are beside themselves on the substance, the funding, and the politics.

Problem 1- Definitions

It has actually been a bit amusing watching Republican legislators fume about what is included in the Biden package as infrastructure. To them, it is roads, bridges, and similar items – nothing else. These are absolutely valid items for infrastructure, we all agree. In fact, they were pretty much the only things that counted as infrastructure – in the 19th Century.

I imagine their predecessors of long ago making the same arguments about those newfangled things called telephones, about indoor toilets, even about electricity. Current objections are on about that same level.

To not consider electric car charging stations, high speed internet access, upgraded and integrated rail as infrastructure in 2021 is infantile, at best. Many other advanced countries filled this out long ago.

We are behind the power curve already. This hurts our economy, quality of life, national security, international prestige, business climate, and more. The old-line stuff needs to be done, but so does the modern stuff. We would be foolish to pretend otherwise.

 Problem 2 – Popular Support for the Biden Program  

Pretty well everyone knows this package needs to be carried out. The list of potential projects in every single community is enthusiastically endorsed. This most often includes enthusiasm for local governments, including Republicans. Voters of all affiliations and no affiliations say, “Bring it on!” One need only look around to see how much of this has been neglected for too long.

All of which makes cries of socialism, rampant debt, and radical agendas by some politicians ring hollow. Most people simply are not buying the story line on any of the Republican talking points.

Problem 3 – Funding

 This problem for the Republicans relates very much to the previous points. Biden has a plan to pay for this and people like his financial plan. In fact, they like the whole package even more when they learn of the funding aspects.

Biden essentially plans to take back about half of the unbelievable tax cut Trump and friends gave to corporations and the wealthiest, paying for this infrastructure program over a reasonable number of years. They still keep half of that tax break. Not exactly a crushing tax burden, is it?

Oh, and those 55 largest American companies that paid ZERO federal taxes last year? And those who moved money overseas to avoid paying any US taxes? They get called out at a reasonable level to help carry the load as well.

People seem to think this is a damn smart way to pay for all this.

Biden has cleverly set all this up. He increasingly makes the point that we all know this needs to be done. He lays out a reasonable way to pay for it. And then he says that he is open to suggestions. Since we most all agree this is needed, I have proposed not only a package, but how to pay for it. If someone has a better idea for how to pay for this needed work, let’s hear it.

So far, all the Republicans have offered is a tax on electric car owners. Forward thinking, that bunch.

 What Happens Next? Probably 1 of 4 Scenarios
  • The Senate Democrats have just gotten a blessing for another reconciliation bill, so it’s possible the whole package could go this route, assuming the few reticent Democrats come on board.
  • It is also possible that they will divide the proposal into two parts, with the more traditional elements getting based on a bipartisan basis and the more advanced element coming in through reconciliation.
  • The third possibility is that the Republicans in the Senate will see the light and at least 10 of them will sign onto a form of the package that 50 Democrats find acceptable. The bill passes in the conventional manner.
  • The fourth possibility is that the effort unravels and none of this comes to pass.

I would not bet the farm on Scenario 3 and I think Biden and Schumer are clever enough to avoid Scenario 4 – too much is at stake to let this happen. Scenarios 1 or 2 are most likely. We should know by Summer where we stand.

     Bill Clontz

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