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GOP senator: Upgrading schools shouldn't count as 'infrastructure'

Since when does repairing, building, and upgrading schools fall outside the "regular" definition of infrastructure?


While many congressional Republicans appear reflexively opposed to major infrastructure investments, Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is at least open to the possibility of a deal -- and it's easy to understand why. Her home state of West Virginia is among the areas most in need of an infrastructure overhaul.

With this in mind, Capito is involved in a GOP effort to craft a counteroffer to the Biden White House's American Jobs Plan, and appeared on CNBC yesterday to argue that a package costing between $600 billion and $800 billion would be in the "sweet spot" for a bipartisan agreement.

There's no shortage of problems with such a pitch, but I was especially interested in the Republican senator's explanation of how she would reduce the scope of the Democratic proposal by roughly two-thirds:

"If we're going to do this together, which we want to do and is our desire, we've got to find those areas and take away the extra infrastructure areas that the president put into his bill like home-health aides and school building and all of these kinds of things."

There's been an unfortunate debate in recent weeks over what should and should not count as actual "infrastructure," and Capito's on-air comments helped encapsulate the often frustrating discussion. Indeed, the senator went on to tell CNBC she wants to see policymakers "get back to what I consider the 'regular' definition of infrastructure."

Let's take a minute to unpack this, because I think Capito touched on something important.

First, the Senate Republican pointed specifically to "home-health aides" as the sort of thing that shouldn't be in an infrastructure/jobs plan. It may not surprise regular readers to learn that I strongly disagree: caregiving absolutely fits into a comprehensive economic agenda.

But this is an especially mistaken approach for a West Virginia senator to take. The home-health-care industry in West Virginia is incredibly important, largely because West Virginia's population is older than almost any other state.

Of all the investments Capito should want to see in the bill, caregiving should be one she wants to include, not discard.

But I was even more surprised by her suggestion that upgrading public schools is superfluous to the nation's infrastructure needs. Since when does repairing, building, and upgrading schools fall outside the "regular" definition of infrastructure?

This is especially notable in West Virginia, where schools are facing a $265 million gap in capital expenditures.

There's also the larger political message to consider. Are Republicans seriously prepared to spend the next few months telling Americans, "Joe Biden and Democrats are too eager to invest in elder care and crumbling school buildings"?