Give Joe Biden An Infrastructure Week And He'll Build Back Better For Decades
Photos, clockwise: Wesley Fryer, Oran Viriyincy, Giuseppe Milo, American Wind Energy Assn

Now that congressional Democrats and Joe Biden have passed the COVID-19 relief bill, it's time to get going on more long-term legislative goals, like making the economy fairer for everyone and keeping the planet habitable for large mammals like elephants, manatees, and political bloggers, all of which we think are worth keeping around for a while. To that end, the administration is preparing what's expected to be a $3 trillion package of spending on infrastructure and jobs, which the New York Times reports (there's a good no-paywall summary here, too) may ultimately be split into a couple of big bills: one on physical infrastructure, like roads, rail, bridges, broadband internet, and green energy investments, and a second that would focus on "human infrastructure" — creating more opportunity for jobs through universal pre-kindergarten and universal community college, paid family leave, training for green jobs, and the like.

The hope is that there's at least a chance some Republicans might join Democrats in passing the stuff that will require pouring concrete and building things, while the more floofy social services components may need to go through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate to avoid a filibuster.

Because the proposal is in the planning stage, say the insiders the Times consulted, a lot of this could change. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday that the administration wants to "invest in working families and reform our tax code so it rewards work, not wealth," but that "any speculation about future economic proposals is premature and not a reflection of the White House's thinking," which is code for "if your pet proposal ends up not being in the package, blame the Times, not us."

So, with those caveats in mind, what sort of stuff are we looking at? For the Getting Shit Built part of the plan, the Times says the goal is to

spend heavily on clean energy deployment and the development of other "high-growth industries of the future" like 5G telecommunications. It includes money for rural broadband, advanced training for millions of workers, and one million affordable and energy-efficient housing units. Documents suggest it will include nearly $1 trillion in spending on the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations, and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector.

Those are all very good things! The federal support for EV charging stations would help make electric vehicles a more attractive option, since worries about finding a place to recharge while traveling is one of the big reasons people give for being leery about electric cars, even though the vast majority of daily commutes drives are a fraction of modern EV range, and well within the "electric" part of most plug-in hybrids, too. (No, we didn't say all, we know some people drive a long way, stop griping.) Also, good to see Jim Clyburn's broadband bill is likely to be included, as we expected.

On the "human infrastructure" side, you have programs that would support education and social programs that would benefit broad sections of the workforce, like supporting families through paid leave and universal pre-K (which would also help kids be more prepared for school school). Biden has made clear he wants childcare workers to be paid on a par with teachers, with the choice to form unions, so that's a twofer helpful for kids, and good jobs for the people looking after them, too. Biden's call for tuition-free community college (or vocational programs) for everyone would go here, too. In addition, this part of the proposal is likely to include either extending or making permanent two family-friendly programs that are in the American Rescue Plan, but are limited to one year: the extended subsidies for health insurance through Obamacare, and the monthly child allowance and expanded child tax credit, which if continued would cut child poverty in half, not to mention helping plenty of middle-class taxpayers who will very much want to keep the aid.

So how likely is this stuff to pass? The hopes of getting enough Republicans on board for the physical infrastructure part is iffy, even though Rs say they recognize roads, bridges, and tunnels are in awful shape. Republicans like to say they want infrastructure, but that any such bill has to be paid for and not add to the deficit.

The administration plans to roll back big parts of the 2017 tax cut law to offset the costs, but then Republicans will squawk about economy-destroying tax hikes. It's a fun no-win game, because remember, the most important parts of "governing" for Republicans are giving breaks to business and the wealthy, and doing nothing else at all. Mitch McConnell is certainly ready to sink any hope of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, explaining, "I don't think there's going to be any enthusiasm on our side for a tax increase." He no doubt wants Biden to pay for infrastructure by eliminating things Republicans don't like, such as California and New York. And yes, some Rs are already saying they can't possibly support the physical infrastructure part of the bill, because the COVID relief bill Republicans refused to have anything to do with was passed without any Republican input, SO SAD.

Still, since the gesture to at least reach out to Republicans is so important to some "moderate" Dems, it may be at least a necessary bit of play-acting. Lay an offering on the altar of bipartisanship first, and when the ghosts of Tip O'Neill and John McCain fail to show up, then pursue as much of the package as can be passed through reconciliation. Or maybe finally think about some serious filibuster reform.

[NYT / CNBC / Photos, clockwise: Wesley Fryer,Oran Viriyincy,Giuseppe Milo (all Creative Commons license 2.0), American Wind Energy Assn (free use with credit)]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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