The Joe Biden administration recently proposed an American infrastructure bill involving $2.25 trillion in government spending.
However, the bill has attracted opposition from Republicans who argue it is not really an infrastructure bill, because, in addition to the typical building and repairing of roads, bridges, airports, water systems, transit, and electrical grids, it also includes spending for items such as housing, elder care, education, and support for manufacturing and small businesses.
Not surprisingly, Republicans, and some Democrats, are huddling over a semantics-based controversy, insisting infrastructure development must relate to the traditional interpretation—roads, bridges, railways, etc.
But, condemning the bill over semantics is shortsighted. There are three proven factors of production—land, capital and labor—all of which are necessary to repair or build new physical infrastructure.
Of course, the labor component typically involves people. Providing good education, elder care, housing and other services means creating a stronger, more focused labor force, unhindered by these issues—and therefore better equipped to efficiently repair and rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.
By denying the bill, Republicans are also denying their constituents much-needed employment opportunities, since, traditionally, infrastructure development is a major source of employment especially for blue-collar workers who are more often looking for seasonal employment.
An All-inclusive Approach
It is a smart move by Biden to include money for housing, elder care, education and other such items in the proposed bill.
But, there are those who argue, perhaps justifiably so, it would be easier for Biden to solicit support from Republicans for the bill if he stuck to traditional infrastructure. However, such a solid infrastructure bill still needs to be filibuster-proof, requiring at least 10 senators to vote with the 50 incumbent Democratic senators to approve it. There is absolutely no guarantee of even one Republican senator voting with the Democrats, much less 10. Besides, Democrats have, in the past, been made to water down bills to appease Republicans and, in the end, gain little or no support.
Biden cannot be faulted for taking the “all-inclusive” approach to getting this infrastructural bill passed. He is willing to take the opportunity, agreed on by the Senate parliamentarian, like the recent American Rescue Plan (ARP), to have the bill pass via the Budget Reconciliation path, which requires a minimum of 51 votes.
Granted, with a price tag of $2.25 trillion, the infrastructure bill is humongous, especially coming on the heels of the big-money $1.9 trillion ARP. There’s no surprise it’s eliciting opposition from fiscal conservatives in both chambers of Congress, including Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of Virginia.
The alternative would be for Biden to propose some four or five separate bills including one for elderly care, another for housing, and so on, to a Congress, including a Senate comprised of 50 Republicans determined to oppose his policy initiatives.
There is therefore good political merit and sense in attempting to get this massive “all-inclusive” bill passed even with the big expense implications. Although Manchin may oppose the bill now, it’s not impossible if Biden is willing to tweak the bill here and there to pacify the Virginia senator, he could fall in line as he did in the case of the ARP.
Moreover, with only 51 votes needed to pass the bill, there is also the possibility of Biden securing the vote or votes of one or more Republican senators more concerned about building and repairing roads and bridges in their state than in opposing Biden’s proposal for raw political purposes. The bottom line is, it may be possible to pass this bill with the 51 required votes than the filibuster required 60 votes in the Senate.
There are several components in the proposed bill for which Republican could negotiate with the Democrats should they want to. Biden has invited such negotiations.
In recent days, a few Republicans have indicated a willingness to have these negotiations. But their input should be realistic and justifiable, not just for show as in the case of the ARP, when Republicans who were willing to negotiate suggested changes that were billions of dollars off what Biden proposed.
Should the negotiations even fail, at least Americans will have recognized attempts were made by both parties to reach an agreement.
If no bipartisan agreement can be reached, Biden will have no alternative but to try getting it passed through Budget Reconciliation, with 51 Democratic votes, assuming he succeeds in getting Manchin’s support.