The release of President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan raises the question: is everything infrastructure now? Some $400 billion—a quarter of the entire package—goes toward “aging care.” That’s infrastructure, apparently. Fifty billion dollars in manufacturing subsidies? Infrastructure. Twenty-five billion for child care? Infrastructure. The only part that isn’t infrastructure is trillions of dollars in new taxes.
By comparison, just 6 percent of the American Jobs Plan package goes toward roads and bridges, or $115 billion for what old-fashioned people might think of as infrastructure. Nearly as much money goes toward K-12 schools, which are still sitting on $180 billion in unused stimulus funds. While there’s $5 billion to help clean up Superfund and brownfield sites—a laudable goal—twice as much goes toward creating Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s unionized Civilian Climate Corps.
Is the Biden plan one of America’s most ambitious investments in infrastructure in generations—or is it the Green New Deal disguised as a unionizing jobs program and paid for by a job-killing tax hike? Fans of the Biden plan should worry about losing sight of what should be the central goals: effectively rebuilding our country’s infrastructure and investing in its future.
Americans strongly support investing in infrastructure, and for good reason: one in every five roads nationally is in “poor” condition. Biden’s plan rightly calls for “fixing them first” and “fixing them right.” The last thing America needs are more bridges to nowhere. In all, the White House proposes $621 billion in spending on hard infrastructure, from highways and roads to transit and airports, totaling some 30 percent of the overall package.
It’s the other 70 percent of spending we should worry about. Democrats propose an even greater financial commitment to public housing with an investment that’s 14 times our annual capital spending on housing authorities. Do we really trust the New York City Housing Authority to spend these billions well—and more wisely than low-income renters can do themselves?
Where Biden’s infrastructure plan really goes off the rails, though, is the $980 billion allocated for the “care economy” and the clean economy. From manufacturing subsidies to extending Medicaid, this reads more like a Democratic wish list than an infrastructure bill. It’s unclear if corporate welfare for Solyndra-like climate schemes will yield anywhere near the immediate gain in human welfare as replacing deadly lead pipes across the country—but guess which effort receives more funding?
America’s transit and health-care institutions have some of the most bloated cost structures on earth. The administration says that it will follow “procurement best practices,” but the plan’s “Buy American” rules are the opposite of a best practice. The plan’s focus on job creation and dollar amounts—at the expense of results—is concerning.
The administration intends to fill potholes with the help of corporate taxes, of which 15 years of revenue will be needed to pay for just eight years of spending. But the plan’s temporary spending comes with permanent tax hikes that risk sending American jobs and intellectual property overseas. Estimates suggest that workers would bear between 50 percent and 100 percent of the costs of higher corporate taxes. At a time when private dollars are eager to invest in infrastructure at low interest rates, why is this necessary?
For now, Biden’s plan is more aspiration than reality. The devil is in the details—and in Congress. States and localities might also demand more dollars for physical infrastructure and a greater say on where those dollars go, but for the time being, the feds are in the driver’s seat. And if there’s one thing that remains true in Washington, it’s that the bigger the bill, the greater the bloat.
If President Biden wants to claim his American Jobs Plan as a legacy-making, “once-in-a-generation investment in America,” he should start by making it actually about physical infrastructure—and invest wisely.
Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network