Press: GOP making big mistake on infrastructure

Construction sign on road
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Please! Will somebody explain to me how Republicans, who always boasted about their support for infrastructure, are now suddenly against it — and think this is good politics?

Infrastructure’s a magic word. It stands for government actually doing something real to improve people’s lives. Something you can actually touch, experience, or drive across. It’s the one issue that always united Republicans and Democrats. In 2016, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) promised to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. So did candidate Donald Trump.

So now that President Biden’s actually trying to do something about infrastructure, sending Congress a $2 trillion “American Jobs Plan” packed with infrastructure projects, you’d think Democrats and Republicans would both rush to embrace it.

Don’t hold your breath. Instead, Republican senators, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have united in opposition over how to define infrastructure and how to pay for it. “There isn’t much appetite for using the word ‘infrastructure’ to justify a colossal, multitrillion-dollar slush fund for unrelated bad ideas,” sneered McConnell.

True, there are elements of Biden’s plan, like child-care, that don’t fit the narrow, historic definition of infrastructure. But, surely, the meaning of infrastructure must change to fit the 21st century. Otherwise, we’d still be building covered bridges and cobble-stoned streets.

“Infra” is the Latin term for “below.” So Webster defines infrastructure as the “underlying structure of a country and its economy,” or, more broadly, what a country “needs in order to function.” Today that still means all the basic stuff — roads, bridges, dams, sewer systems, railways, subways, airports, and harbors — which are the bulk of the Biden plan.

Fixing those crumbling systems is long overdue, but for America to remain competitive in the 21st century, we have to build forward, not just backward. Accordingly, the Biden plan also includes $100 billion to provide universal access to high-speed broadband; $100 billion to upgrade the electric grid; $100 billion to build new public schools; and $174 billion to deliver electric vehicles. In today’s world, they count as infrastructure.

But Biden doesn’t stop there. Recognizing that millions of Americans are left out of the job market because of young children or aging parents at home they have to care for, Biden also proposes $400 billion in caregiving for aging and disabled Americans and $25 billion to upgrade or construct child care facilities. Granted, neither child care nor elder care fits the 20th century definition of infrastructure, but for many Americans, child care today is every bit as essential as a new bridge.

If Republicans are wrong in clinging to an old-world definition of infrastructure, they’re also wrong in claiming that Biden’s plan to pay for infrastructure — raising corporate taxes from 21 to 28 percent — will destroy the economy. Nonsense! We experienced eight years of steady economic growth under President Obama, when the top corporate tax was 35 percent. Besides, as Jared Bernstein, one of the president’s top economic advisers, told me this week, no matter the official top rate, corporations actually pay only an average 8 percent in taxes.

At this point, ten Republican senators — the so-called “G-10” — are hinting they’d be willing to compromise on infrastructure. But, in the end, it’s more likely they’ll do the same thing they did with the stimulus, and all vote against it. Which means Democrats will push infrastructure through by reconciliation, and every new road, bridge, school, and VA hospital in the country will bear a sign that says: “Built with not one Republican vote.”

Please. Again. Somebody tell me how Republicans consider this good governance or good politics. It’s neither.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Broadband Child care Donald Trump Infrastructure Jared Bernstein Joe Biden Mitch McConnell

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