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1 April 2021updated 28 Jul 2021 6:54am

The long road ahead for Joe Biden’s $2trn infrastructure plan

Is it finally Infrastructure Week in the US?

By Emily Tamkin

During the Trump administration, the perpetual non-arrival of “infrastructure week” was a running joke among the political and pundit class in Washington, DC, with ambitious infrastructure announcements promised and then derailed by the former president’s personal political vendettas.

President Joe Biden, though, having passed his $1.9trn dollar Covid-19 stimulus earlier in March, unveiled an infrastructure plan on Wednesday (31 March).

It calls for roughly $2trn to be spent over the course of eight years on infrastructure and economic recovery – the highest level of investment in infrastructure and research, as a share of the economy, since the 1960s, officials said.

The “American Jobs Plan”, as the White House dubbed it, would commit $621bn to transportation infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and mass transit; $400bn to care for the elderly and disabled; and more than $300bn to building and improving affordable housing and upgrading schools. It would electrify a fifth of the country’s yellow school buses and replace every lead pipe in the country, ensure universal clean drinking water and access to high-speed internet by the decade’s end, and raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 per cent (under Trump, it was cut from 35 per cent to 21 per cent). The money assigned to care, officials said, would help “underpaid and undervalued” workers, many of them women of colour, in that industry. 

“I don’t think most Republicans think that the United States – one of the wealthiest countries in the world – should be 13th in the world as it relates to infrastructure,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on 26 March. “Roads that are broken down, infrastructure that isn’t working, a lack of access to broadband – that’s not a Democratic [Party] issue.”

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But, this being the US, infrastructure is a partisan subject. Republicans are already threatening not to cooperate, arguing that the plan interprets “infrastructure” too loosely.

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“We’re hearing the next few months might bring a so-called infrastructure proposal that may actually be a Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, earlier in March.

On the other side of the political spectrum, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have said that the plan does not go far enough or fast enough.

“This is not nearly enough. The important context here is that it’s $2.25T spread out over 10 years,” tweeted Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congressional representative from New York and arguably the most famous progressive in the House of Representatives. “For context, the COVID package was $1.9T for this year *alone,* with some provisions lasting 2 years. Needs to be way bigger.”

Three centrist House Democrats have also already threatened to block the tax hikes in the Biden plan unless it also reverses the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions implemented when Trump was in office.

Democrats have a majority, albeit a narrow one, in the House, and a technical majority in the Senate, where they hold half the seats but where the vice-president, Kamala Harris, has a tie-breaking vote. If Biden cannot get Republican support, which seems well within the realm of possibility, his White House will need to wrangle Democrats of all leanings to pass the plan.

Even the US Chamber of Commerce weighed in, saying that the plan should be paid for by “the users who benefit from the investment”, not businesses (overlooking that businesses do, in fact, benefit from bridges and roads).

Infrastructure week, therefore, is set to become infrastructure weeks. Biden’s announcement will almost certainly be the beginning of a long, drawn-out process, with no guarantee of victory for the White House.

Still, as every person who has made an infrastructure week joke knows, a president can’t have an infrastructure week – or, indeed, any improvements to the nation’s infrastructure – without an announcement that they plan to try to build something new.

[See also: Joe Biden’s Covid stimulus isn’t transformative – yet]