They had a eureka moment.
Infrastructure, you say? Why, only a small fraction of Biden's $2 trillion investment targets roads and bridges and ports and such — "Things that you and I would say is real infrastructure," said Russell Vought, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration.
And that was their best shot — a pinched view of infrastructure that disqualified whatever else was in the American Jobs Plan.
Internet access infrastructure
Yes, a portion of the plan promises "real infrastructure" fixes for 20,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges; and billions of dollars in improvements for ports, waterways, rail and airports. But who wants to tell the 35% of rural families in America or the 25% of students who don't have internet access (many of whom, as a result, lost a year of education during the pandemic) that Biden's package mustn't build out affordable broadband because it doesn't meet the definition of "real infrastructure"?
President Biden pitches $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan
staff video, USA TODAY
Is it real and vital infrastructure improvement to replace, under Biden's plan, lead pipes that dispense poisoned water to 10 million homes across the country, or strengthen the nation's catastrophe-prone (just ask Texas) power grid?
Biden's response is that the concept of infrastructure has always evolved to "meet the aspirations of the American people and their needs." And he has a point.
Infrastructure of caregivers
For example, one could reasonably argue there's an infrastructure of home- or community-based elder care that experts say is terribly stressed and unprepared for the aging baby boomer population, which will nearly triple the number of Americans older than 85 in the decades to come. His plan takes that on.
And there's certainly the infrastructure of energy production and transportation, two major contributors to skies polluted with heat-trapping greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. Rising global temperatures are spawning wetter storms, bigger hurricanes, drier droughts and more fierce wildfires. As one of the world's leading carbon polluters, the United States must cut emissions by half this decade to have a shot, with the rest of world, of preventing the most catastrophic climate changes.
Climate resilience technologies
Biden's "transformational" response is to begin weaning transportation and energy production off fossil fuels by, among other things, advancing the transition to electric vehicles and sponsoring research into emissions-reducing and climate resilience technologies.
The president is offering what he touts as bold and sensible infrastructure improvements that so far appear to resonate with Americans, much as did Biden's $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief package despite lockstep Republican opposition. Moody's Analytics estimates that, along with the relief plan, Biden's infrastructure proposal will create 3.3 million jobs over the next 10 years. The nonpartisan Center on Education and the Workforce says the plan could save or create 15 million jobs.
Nonetheless, hard questions about the American Jobs Plan remain. Here are just a few:
►Green jobs. Biden promises that good paying union work will result from his tax incentives to juice the electric car industry and build 500,000 charging stations by 2030, or extend tax credits to subsidize wind turbines and solar energy. But the reality for transitioning America's million-worker auto industry is that about a third fewer workers will be needed to build the less complicated electric vehicles. And hourly wages in renewable energy jobs like building wind turbines pay less than constructing a fossil fuel energy plant. How will Biden square those deficits with union supporters?
►Regulatory versus market-based. To push America's electricity sector to net-zero carbon emissions by 2035, Biden would institute emission standards on energy production. But if he's left with passing his infrastructure plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, where only a simple majority of Senate votes is necessary, a regulatory framework might not comport with reconciliation process requirements that the legislation relate to taxes and spending. What would comport and what Republicans and this Editorial Board have long urged is a market-based idea: a refundable national carbon tax. Why does Biden's plan ignore that option?
►Short on details. One of the most striking features of the American Jobs Plan and the single biggest expenditure is $400 billion to solidify the home- and community-based care for aging and disabled Americans. Not only is this sector wholly unprepared for a rapidly aging population, but caregivers who are disproportionately women of color are also paid rock-bottom wages with a median salary of $17,200 a year. Biden's proposal promises more jobs and better wages and benefits. But with the exception of calling for an expansion of Medicaid long-care services, there's little else on how this major goal would be achieved. So why no guidance for Congress on this crucial issue?
Beyond first-impression shortcomings, however, Biden's plan remains a muscular and, yes, big-government effort to provide America a competitive edge over 21st century global rivals like China and a vital foundation for finally dealing with climate change.
Biden, who would pay for his plan over 15 years with a corporate income tax hike to 28% from 21% (an idea a majority of Americans so far favor), has every right to call his proposal a means of rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.
It deserves serious consideration.