We all understand the need to invest in maintaining and upgrading our nation’s infrastructure. That includes work on such fundamentals like roads, bridges, transportation, water and energy distribution and the upgrade of communication networks, including the internet.
So when the Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill with bipartisan support that addressed many of those issues, most of us nodded in agreement. We did so even though we knew that there were some who sought a broader definition of infrastructure, and a much bigger plan — just as there were others who opposed the plan and were concerned about funding and deficit implications. The next day, however, Democratic senators (with no Republican support) passed another “infrastructure” bill for $3.5 trillion, in order to address a wide range of social needs. It could take months for Congress to work through the two bills, with no assurance at this time that sufficient votes exist to pass a blended measure.
The Biden administration and the Democratic Party are seeking to exploit a thin Democratic majority in the House and the vice president’s swing vote in a divided Senate to address pressing societal needs. Thus, the $3.5 trillion spending plan includes $726 billion to expand education opportunities, $198 billion toward clean energy, $20.5 billion in investments in Native communities, $18 billion to upgrade VA facilities, $332 billion toward housing affordability and so on. While each of these items is worthy, we worry that the all-inclusive approach seeks to do too much at once and fails to give sufficient consideration to the financial implications of the overall undertaking.
That doesn’t mean that all of the programs should be abandoned. But it does suggest that a more comprehensive analysis of the financial ramifications of the expanded programming should be performed — including an honest assessment of governmental revenue sources to pay for them. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the $1 trillion infrastructure package will add $256 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. We cannot afford multiples of that number for a $3.5 trillion plan.
We are concerned that a one-party rush to the finish line could result in waste, mistakes and unintended consequences. Yet we recognize the limited window of opportunity and fraught internal challenge faced by the Democratic Party. That’s where the party’s standard bearer, President Joe Biden, can lead. As noted by Russell Berman in The Atlantic, “For Biden the good news is that he is a president particularly well suited to landing on the sweet spot for his party. If he had a singular talent over the course of nearly half a century in elected office, it was in finding the political center — not necessarily of the country as a whole, but of the Democratic Party.”
If Biden wants to get his mega-plan through, Biden will have to guide Congress through a comprehensive analysis and presentation that minimizes waste, provides targeted solutions and makes clear how those ambitious initiatives will be funded.