Republicans who argue that broadband and electric vehicle charging stations shouldn’t be included in President Biden’s proposal to rebuild America, because they’re not considered “traditional infrastructure,” are like Republicans who argue we shouldn’t ban AR-15s because, under some definitions, they’re technically not “assault weapons.” Both claims miss the point. The fundamental issue is whether investment in certain structures or systems is good for the American people and the nation as a whole – just like banning AR-15s is beneficial, regardless of their technical category.
And as Rep. Ted Lieu and others have pointed out, the President’s proposal is actually called The American Jobs Plan, not The Infrastructure Plan, so Republican efforts to pigeonhole its various provisions into a narrow, outdated concept of infrastructure miss the mark right off the bat.
Nonetheless, Republicans seem to think their “percentage of the bill that meets our definition of a shorthand name for the bill” is a winning argument for them. Why they think this is unclear. This same strategy failed when they claimed that less than 10% of the Biden COVID Relief bill was actually for COVID relief, but neglected to acknowledge that 70% of the bill was for pandemic-related payments to Americans; extension of unemployment benefits; expanded child tax credits; help to reopen elementary and high schools safely; aid to state and local governments; funds for small-businesses; housing assistance; food aid; and healthcare. The entire COVID relief bill was and remains wildly popular with the American public, which was unswayed by Republican quibbles over how the spending should be characterized.
Similarly, Republican efforts to criticize the scope of The American Jobs Plan as “beyond traditional infrastructure” (which they seem to define as roads, highways, rail, and perhaps ports) are likely to fall on deaf ears. After the past year, who can doubt that broadband is essential infrastructure in the 21st Century?
After the revelations of lead in drinking water in Flint, Michigan and elsewhere, there is no doubt that our water systems are essential infrastructure. The same with sewer systems (sanitary and stormwater). And as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg noted, after seeing Texans scramble like third world inhabitants to survive brutal winter conditions when their power and water supplies were disrupted, can anyone seriously argue that our power grids are not essential infrastructure?
So let’s look at what is in the American Jobs Plan. Spending for roads and bridges, public transit, rail, disaster resilience, airports, and waterways and ports totals almost $400 billion. Another $400 billion is earmarked for high-speed broadband, electric grid and clean energy, public schools, water systems, and eliminating lead pipes.
The Biden proposal contains $330 billion for investments in manufacturing, so America can win the global race to grow and thrive in forward-looking industries like advanced batteries and semiconductors. Wasn’t one of the Republican mantras to bring back manufacturing jobs to the U.S. and not let China clean our clocks? Are they now the ones who are soft on China? Do they seriously argue that these provisions do not belong in an American Jobs Plan?
In addition, the President’s proposal contains $65 billion for child care facilities, veterans hospitals, community colleges, and federal buildings; $174 billion for electric vehicle incentives (including a network of charging stations across the U.S.); and $233 for workforce development, research infrastructure, a dislocated workers program, small business support, climate technology, R&D, innovation and competitiveness, and pandemic preparedness (remember how Trump gutted that, claiming it was unnecessary?); and $400 billion for in-home care for older and disabled Americans, which benefits both the patients and the care-givers.
If Republicans want to try to stand in the way of government investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, and our American workforce, they do so at their peril. While it is not surprising that their arguments tie back to definitions of infrastructure in the 1950s, as that is the era Republicans seem to want to bring us back to socially as well, the fact is, the American people have moved past them into the 21st century and want bold leadership that is focused on the future. And they’re betting on Biden.