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Image: A construction worker scales the northeast cables of the George Washington Bridge duering reconstruction in New York
A construction worker scales the northeast cables of the George Washington Bridge, which is undergoing a multi-year reconstruction in New York City, March 30, 2021.Mike Segar / Reuters

With ambitious new infrastructure plan, Biden isn't fooling around

In the Trump era, "Infrastructure Week" was a punch-line. In the Biden era, no one's laughing at the White House's new American Jobs Plan.


Donald Trump's presidency wasn't known for its humor, but there was one joke that consistently generated laughs: "Infrastructure Week." As regular readers know, the then-president started his term talking up his interest in an ambitious infrastructure package, and periodically, the Republican White House would say Trump was serious about getting something done on the issue.

It became a literal punch-line for a reason. Though Democrats expressed a sincere interest in working on infrastructure, and even passed legislation in the House to address the national need, members of Team Trump struggled to persuade their GOP allies and failed to follow through with a credible plan of their own.

It's too soon to say whether President Joe Biden will succeed where his predecessor failed, but it's clear that for the Delaware Democrat, infrastructure is not a joke. NBC News reported this morning that Biden is headed to Pittsburgh today to unveil an exceedingly ambitious blueprint.

In a speech Wednesday, Biden will to lay out the first part of a massive two-part, multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that is expected to include projects as varied as highways and "human infrastructure," like child care. The kitchen-sink approach is designed to push the economy in a greener and more equitable direction, paid for with higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Though the president has not yet delivered his remarks, the Biden White House has released a summary of the proposal -- spanning nearly 12,000 words -- which the president and his team are calling the "American Jobs Plan." The goal, the White House said, is to "invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race."

To that end, the plan calls for roughly $2 trillion in new domestic investments, to paid for in part by increasing the corporate tax rate -- from 21% to 28% -- which Republicans slashed in 2017.

The second phase of Biden's plan is scheduled to be released next month, and it will emphasize social-insurance programs, including child-care subsidies, free community-college tuition, and expanded health coverage (including a possible reduction in the Medicare eligibility age).

But for now, the focus is on the first phase, which includes all sorts of priorities. A sampling from a very long list published by the Washington Post:

  • $115 billion to revamp 20,000 miles of highways and roads, and thousands of bridges
  • $85 billion to modernize existing transit systems
  • $174 billion to build a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by 2030
  • $213 billion to build and retrofit more than 2 million homes
  • $100 billion to deliver universal high-speed broadband
  • $66 billion for water systems, including the elimination of "all lead pipes and service lines in our drinking water systems"
  • $100 billion to upgrade and build new public schools
  • $180 billion to "upgrade America's research infrastructure," with an emphasis on climate-focused research

Also notable: Biden's plan includes the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), which is currently pending as a stand-alone bill in Congress, and which is a top legislative priority for labor unions.

All of this is very much in line with the ideological approach the president adopted when pushing the COVID relief package: aim high, go big, embrace the new governing paradigm that disregards the constraints that have held Democrats back for the last four decades.

As you'd imagine, I'm barely scratching the surface of the American Jobs Plan's many elements, which Congress will soon consider in excruciating detail. With that in mind, here are some of the questions to keep in mind in the coming weeks and months:

Can Biden's blueprint get bipartisan support? There were some hopes along these lines in the recent past, but they appear to have been dashed. Republican leaders have already denounced the White House's pitch -- anything that raises corporate tax rates is an obvious non-starter for the GOP -- and the idea that it might eventually get 10 Senate Republican votes and overcome a filibuster seems ridiculous.

Is it likely Democrats will try to pass this through the budget reconciliation process? Count on it.

Will that work? Maybe. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who said he didn't want to rely on reconciliation, also said last week he wants an "enormous" infrastructure plan and that Republican opposition simply isn't "reasonable."

If the plan has been separated into two parts, and there's only one opportunity remaining to use the reconciliation process, is half of this plan doomed? That remains to be seen. It's possible Democrats might eventually try to bring the two parts together; it's also possible that Senate Majority Leader has taken an interest in Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 for this precise reason.

What's the timeline? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) intends to pass a House version of this bill before the 4th of July. That strikes me as ambitious, but I've learned not to bet against her.

Watch this space.