Wednesday’s White House summit with congressional leaders on the $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill, officially known as the American Jobs Plan, made little headway in forging bipartisan consensus. A large part of the problem is that President Biden and Congressional Democrats have decided that virtually any aspect of their big-government agenda can be redefined as infrastructure and tossed in the mix.
For example, fighting climate change is now part of infrastructure. The bill would fund a “Civilian Climate Corps,” a nod to the old Civilian Conservation Corps from the FDR era, which seeks to “put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice.” In other words, it will spend billions to underwrite make-work jobs with full health benefits for environmental activists who can’t find gainful employment in the private sector. There are also $175 billion in subsidies for electric vehicles, which could very well be a replay of the Solyndra solar panels debacle. And throughout the bill are nods to promoting green best practices and “environmental justice,” whatever that is.
Education is now part of infrastructure. There is $100 billion devoted to public schools, on top of the $128 billion from the COVID-19 relief bill. A further $12 billion goes to community colleges, in addition to the planned $109 billion in the American Families Act to provide two years of tuition-free education. And other billions are devoted to reducing “racial and gender inequities” in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields.
Don’t forget infant infrastructure. There is $25 billion devoted to a “Child Care Growth and Innovation Fund for states to build a supply of infant and toddler care in high-need areas.” As Senator Kirsten Gillibrand put it, “Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure.”
Taxes are also infrastructure. The bill would raise corporate taxes from 21% to 28%, ostensibly to pay for the massive outlays in the bill. President Biden said he is “not willing to deficit spend,” but that’s ridiculous. One look at the surging national debt tells us he is more than willing to let the debt mount. And it is wrong to assume that raising corporate taxes will cover the $2.3 trillion costs. The projections are based on rosy scenarios that have long been among the accounting tricks Congress uses to make it appear that they are being fiscally responsible. Plus there is no sound rationale for increasing business taxes when the economy is struggling out of the pandemic, inflationary pressures are high and job creation is anemic.
Bipartisanship is also infrastructure, right? Well the White House certainly wants some Republican buy-in. On the other hand Chief of Staff Ron Klain defines bipartisanship as pursuing policies the American people generally agree on, even though the actual legislation cannot attract a single opposition party vote. This leaves the Congress with bills that have to be wedged through using the reconciliation process because Democrats have made no attempt to craft legislation that will attract even a smattering of Republican votes. The majority leadership seems to believe that even the slimmest of margins is a mandate for fundamental change, unlimited spending, and expanding federal power over the states. In fact they don’t need Republicans, they just need Democcratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. This is why despite all the lip service being paid to environmental issues, coal will definitely be part of infrastructure.
And yes, infrastructure is still infrastructure. Roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure elements are in the bill, though most estimates place funding for those programs at under ten percent of the $2.3 trillion. Republicans have offered a more focused and fiscally responsible $568 billion proposal that focuses on actual infrastructure. This clean bill would get bipartisan support, and if Democrats want to vote separately on their progressive wish-list items they could lump them into other more appropriate legislation.
President Biden joked that he could snap his fingers and forge a bipartisan solution to this issue. It’s easier than that. Just stop playing games with the process and pass an infrastructure bill that is actually focused on infrastructure. After all, compromise is about building bridges.
Chris Farrell is Director of Investigations and Research for Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog.