Thursday, April 1, 2021

How Biden gets infrastructure plan on track -- April 1, 2021 column


When President Joe Biden unveiled Wednesday his roughly $2 trillion infrastructure plan, both the political right and the left came out swinging.

“It’s like a Trojan horse,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said, complaining of “more borrowing and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy.”

“This is not nearly enough,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, adding Biden’s plan “needs to be way bigger.” She and other progressives floated the need for an infrastructure plan five times larger than Biden’s.

Biden finally found the sweet spot of bipartisanship – and it is against his sweeping American Jobs Plan.

That’s not all bad. Infrastructure should and perhaps still can be a bipartisan issue.

Nearly everyone agrees the nation’s roads, bridges, railways, airports and waterways need updating and expanding, but how to pay for improvements is the perennial sticking point.

Biden says his bigger, bolder plan pays for itself with – here’s the stick -- higher corporate taxes over 15 years.

The carrot is an array of proposals offering something for nearly every American.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It’s a once in a generation investment in America” that, Biden said, will create millions of jobs and put the United States on a secure environmental and competitive footing for the future.

The plan would remake the economy, revamp transportation and fight climate change and racial inequity. It would redo sewer systems, install a nationwide network of electrical charging stations, give tax incentives for purchases of electric cars, expand broadband access and at-home healthcare, and empower more workers with collective bargaining rights.

And that’s just part of what’s in part one.

Part two – the American Families Plan – is expected shortly. It likely will include paid family leave and other popular benefits.

But nothing happens unless Congress approves. Biden is betting he can capture the imagination of people beyond the Beltway and turn his vision into legislation in even the fiercely partisan Capitol.

“We just have to imagine again,” he said.

“Imagine what we can do, what’s within our reach if we modernize those highways. Your family could travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas, on board a high-speed train. We can connect high-speed, affordable, reliable internet wherever you live.

“Imagine knowing that you are handing your children and grandchildren a country that will lead the world in producing clean energy technology . . . That’s what we’ll do.”

It’s an appealing, hopeful vision at a time when Americans need something to believe in and look forward to. But Biden needs to do more than paint pretty pictures.

He needs convince people government can work again and enough members of both parties to come together for the greater good.

A tall order. Biden proposes to raise the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. That’s still less than the 35% it was before the last administration and Republicans in Congress lowered the corporate rate to 21% in 2017. He also would raise other corporate taxes to keep companies from moving overseas.

To pay for the coming American Families Plan, he said he would raise taxes only on individuals making more than $400,000 a year, not the middle class.

Big business favors traditional infrastructure improvements but solidly opposes corporate tax increases. Some congressional Democrats insist they won’t support a package unless it eliminates the $10,000 cap imposed during the last administration on individual tax deductions for state and local taxes.

Biden says he will consider and should other ways of paying. The pricetag for his two infrastructure plans is likely to total an eye-popping $4 trillion.

The Capitol is already suffering from “spending fatigue” after the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, paid for wholly through borrowing, that Democrats passed and Biden signed in February.

In Biden’s favor are widespread public support for his policies, polls show, and his optimistic vision.

“We have to move now, because I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years, people are going to look back and say this was the moment that America won the future,” he said.

Biden’s legacy hinges on his negotiating skills. He needs to compromise on aspects of the plan and persuade congressional Republicans and Democrats it’s worthwhile to go along.

If he succeeds, this president will lead the country in a cleaner, greener direction. If he fails, his ambitious plan becomes a marker for 2022 and 2024, and it’s more politics as usual.

©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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