Promises from presidents to overhaul America’s infrastructure have been made and broken so many times in recent years that the whole topic has taken on an aura of impossibility. In the world’s richest nation, there should be nothing to prevent bringing all those crumbling highways into the 21st century, yet former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump both watched their big goals on the topic run off the road. President Joe Biden must succeed where they failed — and if that means working around Republicans instead of with them, so be it.
Biden last week formally unveiled a plan with a price tag of more than $2 trillion, to be funded by a modest rise in corporate taxes. Right on schedule, Republicans — who just a few years ago were willing to lard the deficit with almost as much to grant tax cuts to the rich — started howling about the expense. This even though, unlike their discredited notion that tax cuts pay for themselves, the benefits of an infrastructure overhaul actually will pay for themselves. It could also bring a divided country together around a big and necessary goal.
The necessity is beyond debate. The World Economic Forum ranks America’s infrastructure 13th globally. This should stand as a national humiliation in a country that thinks of itself as first in all things. Even in this era of political polarization, Americans throughout the nation and across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support an infrastructure overhaul.
Biden proposes paying for it by partly reversing the Trump administration’s corporate tax cuts, from the current 21% to 28%. This is still well below the 35% rate in effect before those cuts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s vow last week that not a single Republican would support Biden’s plan effectively prioritizes corporate welfare over this pressing national need.
Biden’s plan would repair or replace 10,000 bridges and 20,000 miles of road, and would spend $100 billion for new or upgraded schools. In a recognition that infrastructure means a lot more today than in past eras, the plan would also address issues like broadband access, clean drinking water and climate-change mitigation. It would build 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, while providing grants and tax incentives to bolster the electric-vehicle industry. It would offer other incentives for investment in clean energy like wind and solar.
In addition to giving America an infrastructure worthy of a great nation, the plan would provide millions of jobs for years to come. Biden isn’t wrong to woo Republican support, but he must avoid Obama’s mistake of endless concessions in a fruitless bid for bipartisanship. If Democrats must make this lift alone, as they did with the recent pandemic rescue package, it would provide just one more reminder to voters that one party works for corporations and the rich while the other is working for America.