by Ben Boychuk
The winding road to American utopia is dotted with potholes, buckling bridges, leaking canals, and lit by flickering lights. To repave America’s highways, shore up her bridges, repair her waterways, and reinforce her power grid, the Democrats’ left-wing insists Congress must first pass a $3.5 trillion bill to fund the federal government and remake large swaths of society along the way.
So the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, first scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives on Monday, then punted to Thursday, might not get a vote before the weekend as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) redoubles her efforts to wrangle her fractious caucus into supporting the whole stinking mess.
What’s the problem? The politics are stupid, and mainly involve intramural disagreements among Democrats, but they might be summarized thus: the House Progressive Caucus vows to vote against the infrastructure bill unless they get the full $3.5 trillion reconciliation budget bill, which is chock full of their pricey policy priorities (including—please don’t mention this—a few that Donald Trump had tried to advance with limited success).
But “moderate” Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), object to the size and scope of the bill. In a word, it adds too much debt. Pass the infrastructure bill first, Manchin said Wednesday, then let’s “start negotiating in good faith.”
Taken together, Congress would spend $3.5 trillion (in fact, the number is probably somewhere between $4.3 trillion and $5.5 trillion) to fund Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, a progressive wish list that portends higher taxes on everyone, not just the rich, in exchange for expanded government-funded healthcare, education, and “climate mitigation” programs that would lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal.
It’s all very ambitious and controversial, which is why Biden has had to resort to transparent lies to fluff public opinion.
In a play so mendacious only a Washington Post columnist could believe it, Biden on Saturday tweeted that his “Build Back Better Agenda costs zero dollars,” adding: “Instead of wasting money on tax breaks, loopholes, and tax evasion for big corporations and the wealthy, we can make a once-in-a-generation investment in working America.”
Oh, and it won’t add anything to the national debt, Biden assures. (Not true.) As long as everyone pretends the tax revenue estimates are real and massive increases in social spending are hazard-free, the road to utopia is flat, straight, and without a speedbump in sight.
A Proper Infrastructure Bill
Regardless of the fate of Biden’s “Build Back Better” B.S., America really does need more infrastructure spending. A lot more. And as incredible as this may sound, the $1 trillion infrastructure plan arguably doesn’t go far enough, while at the same time squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on the wrong things.
The compromise legislation shifted much of the silly “human infrastructure” stuff that the administration wanted initially to the bigger $3.5 trillion budget bill.
What’s left is $550 billion in new spending on roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, dams, water and power, and transit over the next decade.
As a rule, bipartisanship is a sucker’s game. But infrastructure might be the rare and glaring exception to that rule. Since the very earliest days of the country, farsighted statesmen have recognized that prudent investment in essential infrastructure—“internal improvements” such as roads, waterways, and eventually rail—was essential for national prosperity.
In that sense, Trump was right to make infrastructure a centerpiece of his 2016 campaign. His “plan”—more of a broadly drawn list of aspirations, really—resembled what Congress is debating now. (The main difference was that Trump wanted more private investment in public projects, which Democrats have tended to shun.)
And it, too, didn’t go nearly far enough.
The United States has a bona fide need for roughly $2.6 trillion in infrastructure repairs, upgrades, and expansion over the next decade, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Surface transportation alone—mostly roads—accounts for about half of the expense.
The figure is massive but unsurprising. A nation of 350 million is making due—to name just one problem—with a highway system built for a country with roughly two-thirds of the current population. Some major cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, are getting by with waterworks that are a century old in places. It’s a slow-motion catastrophe born of misplaced priorities and sometimes malign neglect, as politicians have raided infrastructure funds to pay for pet projects.
The result? Examples are too numerous to list, but here’s one from my own backyard: Residents of the Los Angeles district of Westwood near UCLA awoke early one morning in August 2020 to the sound of roaring floodwaters and crashing trees after a 30-inch water main ruptured beneath Sunset Boulevard. Some people may have been caught off guard, but the L.A. Department of Water and Power couldn’t have been too surprised. After all, the same thing happened six years earlier a mile or so down the street. The only difference was the time of day.
In short, these are not “bridges to nowhere” or government make-work jobs we’re discussing. These are real projects for real needs. We’re talking about everything from repaving thousands of miles of the federal highway system and upgrading our antiquated air traffic control system to reinforcing aging dams and levees and weatherizing power lines. The longer we wait, the more it will cost, not only in tax dollars but lost productivity and stunted economic growth.
And unlike certain government transfer programs, infrastructure spending has real multiplier effects. Infrastructure projects create jobs, obviously—anywhere from 6 million to 13 million, depending on the study. But they also have secondary and tertiary economic effects, which lead in turn to innovation, greater profits, and necessarily greater tax revenues.
Better infrastructure, in short, makes for a great America.
A certain breed of progressive once understood this. The Democrats’ current infrastructure plan provides for a fraction of what the country actually needs. In lieu of new pipes, it appears they’re prepared to settle for pipe dreams.
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Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He is a former weekly syndicated columnist with Tribune Media, and a veteran of several publications, including City Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, and the Claremont Review of Books. He lives in California.