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Image: President Joe Biden delivers a speech on infrastructure spending at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center on March 31, 2021, in Pittsburgh.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on infrastructure spending at Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center on March 31, 2021, in Pittsburgh.Evan Vucci / AP

Republicans aren't sure how to attack Biden's infrastructure plan

Republicans know they don't like Biden's plan, and they're determined to turn people against it. But making the case against the popular idea isn't easy.


South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appeared on Fox News last night to criticize President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan, which at face value, wouldn't have been especially interesting. Republicans are eager to derail the White House initiative, and the ambitious governor routinely toes her party's line.

And in this case, the GOP line is that Biden's infrastructure plan is insufficiently focused on infrastructure. "I was on a call with the White House today with all the governors talking about the specifics of this package," Noem said, "and I was shocked by how much doesn't go into infrastructure."

To drive home the point, the South Dakota governor complained that the president's plan, among other things, puts money "into housing and pipes" -- as opposed to actual infrastructure.

Noem's comments were amusing, but in a deeply unfortunate way. The White House's "American Jobs Plan" does intend to build and retrofit more than 2 million homes, while improving U.S. water systems. As part of the effort, Biden has called for the elimination of "all lead pipes and service lines in our drinking water systems."

Evidently, the South Dakota governor -- who's "shocked" by the White House blueprint -- doesn't think such initiatives should be seen as infrastructure investments. Why not? I haven't the foggiest idea.

Noem's pitch probably won't persuade many people, but the weakness of her talking points is emblematic of a larger truth: Republicans know they don't like Biden's plan, and they're determined to turn people against it. But making the case against it is going to be tricky.

Part of the problem for the GOP is that the White House's proposal is already popular. A Morning Consult/Politico poll found broad support for an ambitious federal infrastructure bill, paid for by tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations. In fact, excluding the tax hikes made the plan less popular, not more.

In other words, what most Americans want is a plan that spends trillions of dollars and raises taxes on the rich and hikes the corporate tax rate. This is exactly what Biden's plan does, making it that much more difficult for Republicans to rally the public against it.

For his part, Donald Trump tried to attack Biden's plan yesterday, issuing a 400-word rant that seemed oddly disconnected to reality, even for him. From the former president's harangue:

"Joe Biden's radical plan to implement the largest tax hike in American history is a massive giveaway to China, and many other countries.... Biden promised to 'build back better' -- but the country he is building up, in particular, is China and other large segments of the world."

In all, Trump's statement directly referenced China five times -- six if we include the gratuitous reference to Beijing -- while condemning the idea of a "tax hike" three times. The former president added that the plan would be "among the largest self-inflicted economic wounds in history."

While I'm mindful that fact-checking Trump's nonsense can be exhausting, let's quickly note a few things. First, the idea that investing in U.S. infrastructure would "build up" China is bonkers. Second, saying the word "China" over and again is not actually an argument.

Third, the idea that raising the corporate tax rate would devastate the U.S. economy and cause massive job losses is belied by recent history. In fact, job growth in the United States was stronger in the final three years of the Obama/Biden era, when the corporate tax rate was 35%, than it was in the first three years of the Trump/Pence era, when the corporate tax rate was cut to 21%.

There's also a political context to Trump's tantrum. As Ezra Klein explained well yesterday, "It's become a punch-line, but it really is remarkable that Trump didn't do an infrastructure plan in his four years in office. Particularly at the beginning, he could've peeled off scared Democrats. The whole country could have roads and bridges with his face on them.... Trump said he wanted a massive rebuilding of American infrastructure. He likes building things. I think he did want it. He just didn't want to do the work."

And now that Biden and his allies -- the members of the nation's governing party -- are prepared to do the work, Trump is furious, and his GOP allies are pretending that water systems don't count as infrastructure.

The next few months are bound to be interesting.

Postscript: It didn't come as a surprise that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized corporate tax increases yesterday, but the lobbying group added that infrastructure spending should be paid for by "the users who benefit from the investment."

The last time I checked, American businesses benefited quite a bit from the nation's highways, ports, rail system, airports, and electrical grid. It's a detail the U.S. Chamber of Commerce probably ought to be aware of.