infrastructure week but real
President Biden met with Senate Democrats late Monday to discuss their next big legislative goal, an infrastructure and domestic policy package with a working price tag of about $3 trillion. The package, which The New York Times reports could go as high as $4 trillion, would be the centerpiece of Biden's "Build Back Better" agenda, combining money for roads and bridges, transportation funds, expanded pre-K and subsidized community college, broadband access, family support measures, and clean energy systems.
Here are 3 big questions about Biden's ambitious work in progress:
1. One bill or more? Biden's advisers are reportedly proposing splitting the package into at least two parts, trying to first pass a roughly $1 trillion bill to fix road and bridges, expand broadband, and fund other measure that have some broad bipartisan support. The second package would focus on people-centered economics, probably using the budget reconciliation process so no Republican votes are necessary. "There's only one more opportunity to use reconciliation this year," so the second bill would be subject to a GOP filibuster, Politico notes. "That strategy raises an obvious question: Can Biden get 10 Republican senators to cooperate on 'concrete and steel' when they know the tax and social welfare stuff they oppose is coming next via reconciliation?"
2. How high will they go? The working target for the legislation is $3 trillion over 10 years for infrastructure projects and the other proposals. Republicans are already raising concerns about the growing budget deficit. But the U.S. should really spend about $6 trillion on infrastructure alone over the next decade, the American Society of Civil Engineers said in its 2021 U.S. infrastructure report card. Among the reasons America got a C- are the 45,000 bridges in poor condition, water mains that break every two minutes, and 2,300 dams with "high hazard potential."
3. How will Biden pay for this? There are lots of potential funding mechanisms under discussion, but the biggest "source of money would be higher taxes on the affluent — people making at least $400,000 a year — and on corporations," David Leonhard reports at the Times. That would effectively undo the 2017 GOP tax cuts. "Some Republicans have expressed interest in infrastructure projects," but raising taxes would drain GOP support, The Wall Street Journal predicts. Even without tax hikes on the rich, getting any GOP support will be a heavy lift, Leonhardt says. "Congressional Republicans have almost uniformly opposed the top legislative priorities of each new Democratic president over the past three decades."