Historic opportunity to rebuild America’s infrastructure could slip away


On October 2nd, Sound Transit opened its light rail extension to Northgate. Around 45,000 passengers a day will use the line once the pandemic is over, and the transit route through the city center and past the airport to reach Bellevue soon will be an essential transportation option at a time when we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

On the same day in 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt became President made his second visit to the construction site of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. After the dam was completed in 1942, not only did it provide irrigation water, but it became one of the largest producers of electricity in the United States – clean hydropower, despite the fact that it stopped the natural migration path for salmon.

These are examples of what most people imagine when they hear the word “infrastructure,” and we were once very good at it. From the state-sponsored Erie Canal in New York and the Land Grant Railways of the 19th century.NS Century (the young Republican Party was very big in terms of infrastructure or “internal improvements”), airports and the interstate highway system in the 1920sNS, it was an American feature.

However, this has not been the case for several decades as the momentum has been slowed by tax cuts, bureaucracy and political division. China operates nearly 24,700 miles of high-speed passenger trains (from zero in 2002). Spain’s mileage is 3,400; France, 2,400; Germany 2,200 and Japan more than 2,100. The United States doesn’t have one.

Meanwhile the latest Infrastructure certificate from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a C-minus.

No wonder President Joe Biden paid a lot of attention to the infrastructure portion of the Build Back Better agenda. Contrary to its predecessor’s repeated empty promises of an “infrastructure week”, this is a real plan – $ 1.2 trillion in internal improvements, though this has been scaled back to include bipartisan support.

The statement passed the Senate in August. Since then it has been handicapped in the house. There the progressives want Biden’s other package of signatures to be given priority: $ 3.5 trillion to expand the social safety net and combat climate change.

As I write, progressives have the advantage, at least enough, to block infrastructure measures. Meanwhile, conservative Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are rejecting the price on the safety net bill. It was not for nothing that Will Rogers said in the 1930s: “I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a democrat. “

These tense negotiations take place while Republicans are playing with matches over the debt ceiling, even with default threats on the full confidence and creditworthiness of the federal government.

Infrastructure benefits the economy from improving productivity, communication and supply chains to innovation through the introduction of new technologies. It creates jobs. As a public investment, it costs taxpayers’ money. But where it endures, it more than pays back its original cost. That was the case with New Deal projects like Grand Coulee.

In contrast, spending on unnecessary wars – $ 8 trillion since 9/11 – is gone. Spending on tax cuts, which primarily benefit the rich, adds little to the economy as a whole and increases inequality at the same time. Corporate tax cuts are largely due to share buybacks that benefit shareholders, another factor in increasing inequality.

Federal infrastructure investments has stagnated over the past few decades. Biden hopes to change that with his plan, that remains ambitious.

Among other things, it would rebuild 20,000 miles of roads, repair critical bridges, spend $ 66 billion on rail passenger transport and $ 49 billion on local public transport, provide billions more for clean water and environmental projects, strengthen the power grid and expand broadband access .

Biden’s other Build Back Better measure is even bigger and focuses on social spending and equality. It would offer paid day care for those who qualify, strengthen Obamacare, offer a free community college, expand Medicare benefits, and much more. This is priced at about $ 2 trillion over 10 years.

While the Democratic leaders are now trying to bring the party together on Biden’s economic package, they have face great challenges about what to keep, what to dump, do a few things in depth, or spread short term programs, and come at a cost that would bring the entire party with such a tiny Congressional majority.

To argue that we cannot afford advanced infrastructure, a better safety net, and the fight against climate change is in the face of what the Washington Post published Pandora Papers Stories, shows how billionaires hide their wealth from taxes. or a current ProPublica story about how more than half of America’s wealthiest are taking advantage of the system to avoid inheritance taxes.

But that reality doesn’t matter if Manchin or Sinema can torpedo widespread laws in the Senate. This is now whether you like it or not.

The great advances in the New Deal came thanks to the commanding Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Even then, some of the most momentous achievements like social security took years of work and compromise before they became law.

Ideally, the Democrats would deliver popular programs quickly. But time is working against them. The party that controls the White House tends to lose seats in mid-term elections, so it can’t be any different in 2022. The Center Democrats are particularly at risk and the Republicans could take control of Congress.

Darmcheck is now the order of the day. Biden has the opportunity to be a Transformative President. Or, in part because of the fault lines in his own party, a mere historical footnote thrown in 2024.

Then there are again tax cuts, deregulations, environmental protection rollbacks, “The state is the problem” and “infrastructure weeks” that never exist. Today’s golden opportunity to change course will be lost.

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