President Joe Biden’s transformational infrastructure proposal brings to mind the Talmudic idiom, “If you grab for too much, you’ll get nothing.” The $2 trillion American Jobs Plan is a compilation of almost every good idea to improve some aspect of American life. That’s why it’s so attractive, so problematic and, ultimately, so disappointing.
America has a serious infrastructure problem. There has been no comprehensive public investment in infrastructure and research and development for more than 50 years. Biden’s plan seeks to address the problem, and that’s commendable. But how are we going to pay for it? And how can the plan pass Congress over the opposition of Republicans, large segments of big business and maybe even the Democratic left?
President Biden was unapologetic: “This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race, in the 1950s and ’60s,” he said last week.
He’s right. America’s infrastructure has aged, bridges have collapsed, trains have run off their tracks, residents have been poisoned by their drinking water and frozen to death in catastrophic power outages. So Biden’s plan proposes to dedicate $115 billion to repair and rebuild bridges, highways and roads; $100 billion to expand high-speed broadband across the entire country; $100 billion to upgrade and build new schools; and $100 billion to expand and improve power lines and spur a shift to clean energy.
These are unquestionably worthy ideas and important improvements. But the conglomeration of all of these projects doesn’t appear carefully thought through or presented. Indeed, it appears that the administration is preparing to lose bits and pieces of the plan in the negotiation over its terms. Thus, the plan includes $80 billion for Amtrak, $175 billion for electric vehicles and $400 billion earmarked for what is being called “the caretaking economy” — home- and community-based care for elderly and disabled people.
How to pay for it all? Tax hikes on business, which Biden says would be paid off in 15 years — even though the plan’s spending would take place over eight years. Corporate taxes would rise to 28%, taking back one-half of the tax break in the Trump administration’s 2017 tax law.
But increased taxes on the wealthy and on corporations won’t be enough to pay the outsized $2 trillion bill. There will be an inevitable trickle down of tax increases to those of more modest means — which raises the question of whether all Americans are prepared to pay their fair share of the mind-numbing cost.
There is much to discuss here. Republicans will not do themselves or the country any good by just saying no to roads and bridges, internet and power grids, and the global threat of climate change. And Democrats will not be able to impose their will without significant debate and compromise.
This is a chance for Congress to engage in careful evaluation and consideration of the best path forward to build a better and stronger America. The voters will be watching.