Biden and members of his cabinet say infrastructure underpins all pillars of American life, from energy education, health care to manufacturing, and the need for investment is enormous. But the president’s boldness and generous interpretation of a policy area that Washington has traditionally viewed as confined primarily to transportation projects is already causing a huge clash with its enemies on Capitol Hill. After all, one person’s infrastructure plan is another’s left-wing takeover.
In the first crucial exchanges that can define a bill of this size, Republicans feel a chance to portray Biden’s second massive political bet, following the passage of a $ 1.9 trillion Covid bailout bill. dollars, as the act of “socialists” in tax hikes – a message they hope to get to the congressional takeover in the midterm elections in November 2022.
In the red states at least, the infrastructure is still what it always has been.
“When people think of infrastructure, they think of roads, bridges, ports and airports,” Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt told ABC News “This Week” on Sunday. “It’s a very small part of what they call an infrastructure package that does a lot more than infrastructure.”
The outcome of this defining duel will likely help dictate the fate of Biden’s presidency and legacy, but will also have lasting consequences for the American economy and society as he seeks to boost workers and society. middle class.
One country, two visions
The disconnection of infrastructure exposes the huge chasm in perceptions between Republicans and Democrats about the state of the country as the post-pandemic era approaches. It highlights a pivotal moment in U.S. politics with a new Democratic president looking a window in history to carve a record that will stand up to comparison with the great reform Democrats of the 20th century. And more fundamentally, the battle over the shape and size of Biden’s $ 2 trillion infrastructure bill announced last week fills the eternal divide between conservatives and liberals over the role of the U.S. government.
The White House will likely have months to try to tweak the package to make it more palatable to Manchin, a hugely influential figure given the importance of his vote in a 50-50 Senate. But his first test balloon shows that with unlikely Republican votes for the bill, the action to watch will be within the Democratic caucus in the Senate itself.
Biden, who was forced to step in to get Manchin to pass the Covid relief bill, has yet to respond to the West Virginian’s comment. But upon his return from Camp David on Monday, the president made it clear that he understood that the early debate to define the infrastructure bill could be critical.
“It’s quite interesting that when the Republicans brought forward an infrastructure plan, they thought everything from broadband to transactions to other things was… infrastructure. Biden said. “So it’s interesting to see how their definition has changed, but they know we need it.”
Biden’s former Republican Senate training partner, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has already made it clear that the scale of the bill means it won’t get any Republican backing, as the Tories are trying to push it. defined as a Trojan horse measure concealing a myriad of long-standing liberal priorities.
Biden’s cabinet firmly rejects the perception that the measure is too broad, too expensive, and overturns traditional perceptions of infrastructure.
“At the end of the day, I don’t want us to get lost in semantics,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“We need to refresh our understanding of infrastructure”
The infrastructure bill does not completely destroy orthodoxy. He’s handing a windfall to Amtrak, which has the often-neglected rail network dreaming of new routes in new states. It overhauls lead water pipes and modernizes airports and ports where delays cost the economy billions in lost productivity.
A modern interpretation of the term “infrastructure” could also embrace the billions the president is proposing to spend on making broadband universal for the entire nation – a step that will boost the economy, especially in rural areas.
But a sticking point for critics of the bill is the $ 400 billion Biden plans to invest in home and community health care, which would overhaul social care in the United States.
“We absolutely need to update our understanding of infrastructure,” said Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
“The infrastructure at the heart is that which enables trade and economic activity. What could be more fundamental than care services? If you think about it – even people who build bridges and tunnels need care – for their children, for their aging parents. “
The alliance says home health care becomes even more of an economic necessity as an aging baby boomer generation risks creating an economic drag that better care could counter by allowing more and younger family caregivers to stay in the labor market. Making home care jobs more attractive and better paid could translate into a significant economic benefit in itself. It would also allow more senior citizens to avoid care homes that have proven to be incubators for disease during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Republicans take the opposite philosophical view, seeing the use of government power in such a vast arena to be contrary to growth, innovation, and market principles they see as guaranteeing decades of prosperity. in the USA. Conservatives see grants to next-generation energy technology companies as a non-American approach to picking losers and winners in a free market.
The fight for the proposal in many ways is Biden’s next great power game in the latest struggle between unbridled capitalism and periods of liberal social safety net construction. This dynamic defined American policy through the eras of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama, and could now endorse another presidency.