It's infrastructure week again: White House unveils historic jobs and hard infrastructure plan
The White House released a roughly $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan Wednesday, ahead of a formal unveiling of the proposal by President Biden in Pittsburgh Wednesday afternoon. This is the mostly physical infrastructure part of a larger plan, with ambitious goals to provide jobs, tackle climate change, and replace the nation's crumbling infrastructure. It would do everything from creating a grid of electric car charging stations across the country, to replacing every lead water pipe. By 2030, every American could have access to high-speed internet in their home and as many as 2 million homes and housing units would be constructed, renovated, or retrofitted to be safe, connected, and energy efficient.
It all sounds utopian, even though as Meteor Blades points out it is really just a downpayment on the vast sums that will be necessary to put the country on solid economic footing to start really combatting the dual threats of climate change and social and economic inequity. The biggest chunk of the proposal is traditional infrastructure: $621 billion for transportation including roads, bridges, ports, airports, public transit, and electric vehicle charging stations. Yes, there's about $80 billion for Amtrak.
It targets $111 billion for replacing lead water pipes and replacing old sewer lines; $100 billion for national broadband internet; $100 billion for upgrades to the electric grid to deliver clean energy; and $300 billion toward building and retrofitting homes. The administration is including $400 billion to provide care for the elderly and people with disabilities in this package instead of putting it off for the next round of social infrastructure spending it will introduce later. That's probably a reflection of the vast deficiencies in longterm care the pandemic has revealed.
This comes with a corporate tax hike, from the 21% set by the Trump tax scam to $28%. It would prevent companies from just shifting profits overseas to avoid that tax hike by imposing a 21% global minimum tax, and would prevent companies from merging with overseas companies to move their headquarters and avoid taxes. It would also increase corporate IRS audits, which could raise even more money (but the IRS needs to be fully funded for that to be able to happen). This is all the hard infrastructure; the "soft" infrastructure—child care funding, family tax credits and other domestic programs—will come in a few weeks. That will be another roughly $2 trillion and will include tax hikes on the super-rich.
All of which means Republicans hate it, even if their communities need the investment as much as any. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is exploring ways of getting it passed that don't necessary involve having to get rid of the filibuster. He's convinced a part of the 1974 Congressional Budget Act gives the Senate the ability to use budget reconciliation multiple times in a year.
Budget reconciliation is the process the Congress used to pass the COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Plan. It is a way to bypass the 60-vote majority filibuster, but is infrequently used because it takes up a ton of floor time, with unlimited amendments being available to both parties in the Senate. It has traditionally been seen as available for use a maximum of two times a year. The part of the Budget Act, Section 304, has not been used before, Schumer's staff say, so this is new for them and for the Senate parliamentarian, the staff member in charge of interpreting Senate rules and advising on what's allowable under them.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has preemptively rejected the plan. "Unfortunately, this looks like it's not going to head in the direction that I had hoped," McConnell said at an event in Kentucky on Monday. "My advice to the administration is, if you want to do an infrastructure bill, let's do an infrastructure bill. Let's not turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals."
Congress has decided to bring back earmarks, which could potentially help get a handful of Republican votes in the House, maybe even in the Senate. They're renaming it "member-directed funding," a revised and more transparent way for lawmakers to designated chunks of funding for specific projects in their own districts and states. That's a sweetener for Republicans, but no sure guarantee of votes even if they get their pet projects into the spending bills. But it should definitely unify the Democrats.
"It's about jobs. It's about investing in the industries of the future. And it's about rebuilding parts of our communities that have long been forgotten," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
Another White House official who briefed reporters Tuesday called it a once-in-a-generation kind of effort. It's comparable to the "historic and galvanizing public investment programs we've had in the past," like the interstate highway system and space program. "This is an important moment to demonstrate that the United States and democracies can deliver for people," the official said. "The stakes of this moment are high, the world is watching."
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