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Politics What is Biden talking about?

15:17  29 july  2021
15:17  29 july  2021 Source:   washingtonexaminer.com

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Of all the topics Jesus discussed, infrastructure may not have been the most exciting, but it nevertheless comes up a few times in the Gospels.

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Jesus preached about the wise man and the foolish man who built houses. Both houses were buffeted by storms or floods. The difference: The wise man “dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock” while the foolish man “built his house on the sand.” The house built on stone stood strong, and the one built on a foundation of sand collapsed.

Jesus, in giving Peter his name, declared, “On this rock, I will build my church.” And of course, he said, “The stone rejected by the builders will become the cornerstone.”

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The foundation of a home or a church is part of its structure. It is the part that lies below the visible parts of the structure. Infrastructure, then, if we consider the Latin, means something like the below-structure. It is the foundation.

In its civic sense, infrastructure has a slightly broader meaning. Politicians and bureaucrats speaking of infrastructure typically are talking about sewers and broadband, or even more likely about transportation, such as roads, bridges, airports, railroads, and ports.

Infrastructure, in its common usage, is the physical things on which we build civic and economic life.

These days, there’s a debate over what infrastructure means, as Democrats have tried to expand the meaning. President Joe Biden argued that the definition of infrastructure “has always evolved to meet the aspirations of the American people and their needs. And it is evolving again today.”

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“Aspirations of the American people” is far loftier verbiage than is typically deployed for pavement and fiber. That’s because an infrastructure bill is now the vehicle on which the White House is pinning its own lofty aspirations. The infrastructure bill appears to be a rare opportunity for the Biden administration to fund its priorities and imprint its expanding vision of the government's role in our lives.

A means to an end

Infrastructure is not properly considered an end in itself. It’s a means.

We need good infrastructure so that we can do the stuff that matters. This status, behind the scenes and beneath the surface, gives infrastructure its singular place in politics: oft-neglected, yet seemingly bipartisan in an intensely partisan age.

There’s not much sexy about funding infrastructure, especially the most essential part of it, which is maintaining and repairing existing roads, wires, pipes, levees, and so on. It’s the national-level analogy to weeding your backyard and tightening the screws on your kitchen cabinet doors.

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While neglected, infrastructure is also privileged, precisely because it is such a nuts-and-bolts issue.

The ideological chasm is vast regarding the proper role of government. More and more Democrats are advocating an ever-more-expansive role of the state: government funding day care, Uncle Sam as the default health insurer and a commercial banker, and anything else you can think of. Meanwhile, the Republican side is in the midst of an intramural debate: Should Washington regulate tech platforms’ content rules? Should states dictate private businesses’ coronavirus measures?

But nearly everyone in politics agrees that the government, whether state or federal, has a primary role in building roads, bridges, sewers, and levees.

Funding infrastructure is also bipartisan for less salutary reasons. Current infrastructure proposals are in the trillions of dollars. Most of those dollars will flow through private contractors, U.S. manufacturers, and workers. That means some of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, including contractors and Big Labor, see gold in an infrastructure bill.

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This brings us to one reason it’s been so hard to get this “bipartisan” matter handled: Special interests with their hands in the pot distort priorities. An infrastructure bill optimized to please the labor unions or the trade associations isn’t one optimized to meet the needs of the nation.

Biden’s original infrastructure proposal included $175 billion in subsidies for electric vehicles. Tesla last year joined with Uber and electric utilities to form a lobbying organization called the Zero Emissions Transportation Association. ZETA employs in-house lobbyists, including former staffers to Democratic senators, but also hires outside lobbying groups. The members of this lobby group are the companies that would profit from hundreds of billions of dollars in electric car subsidies.

Biden proposed a $25 billion “Child Care Growth and Innovation Fund,” which would funnel taxpayer money to the Service Employees International Union through state-run child care facilities.

Dozens of other special interests have lined up and often secured funding in the name of infrastructure. With all these special favors sprinkled in the bill, there’s a bigger price tag, less room for real priorities, and more things to disagree about.

Who pays?

Whether the spending is for “infrastructure,” or infrastructure proper, or special-interest goodies, it needs to be paid for somehow. Here, there are plenty of philosophical debates and policy disputes to bog down progress.

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Biden wants to fund his bill with higher corporate income taxes. Republicans and some Democrats reject that.

Much infrastructure can be funded through user fees. Highways and bridges, for instance, can be funded by charging the drivers who use them. There’s a logic to this, but it’s not always popular, and there’s no agreement on the best form of user fee.

Currently, on the federal level, gas taxes are the model. There’s a logic there: You burn gasoline to drive, and so gas taxes can pay for the roads. But this ignores the impact of electric vehicles, hybrids, and increasing fuel efficiency. If the point of gas taxes was reducing fuel consumption, pollution, or carbon dioxide emissions, it would be fitting that Tesla owners don’t pay anything.

But if a gasoline tax is supposed to fund highways, this makes no sense. An electric vehicle wears and tears at the roads as much as a gasoline vehicle does. In a sense, the rich people with Teslas are now free riders.

That’s why policymakers now propose alternatives. One of the most direct is a tax on electric vehicles to fund roads. More high-tech solutions include a mileage-based user fee, with which drivers are charged based on mileage driven rather than gasoline consumed.

How to fund infrastructure, though, is a simpler question than, "What is infrastructure?"

Everything is infrastructure

The New York Times put it gently when describing Biden’s vision. “Mr. Biden is thinking much bigger,” the paper’s reporters commented. “His proposal includes not just trillions in spending for highways, bridges and other physical facilities, but also huge new investments in areas that have not traditionally been seen as infrastructure, such as paid leave and child care.”

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Biden’s initial proposal stretched the definition of “infrastructure” beyond its limits. The White House requested $400 billion to “solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers.”

It’s hard to get more “service economy” and less “infrastructure” than home care workers. There’s almost nothing in that industry that isn’t literally humans doing labor. Not only is this a purely metaphorical use of “infrastructure” in an infrastructure bill, it’s a bad metaphor to boot. Had the White House simply omitted the words “the infrastructure of,” the line would have made more sense, but then, how could they justify sticking this line item, a bonbon for the Service Employees International Union, into the bill?

Thus was the norm for Biden’s “infrastructure” proposal, which included tens of millions of dollars for airy goals such as reducing racial disparities in mathematics.

Even the stuff that involved building didn’t involve anything we would normally call “infrastructure.” For instance, Biden requested billions to “build, preserve, and retrofit more than two million homes and commercial buildings, modernize our nation’s schools and child care facilities, and upgrade veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings.”

This is building structures, not infrastructure.

Expanding the definition of infrastructure is an attempt to smuggle ideological or partisan priorities into a vehicle that has bipartisan support.

Role of government

Something deeper is going on here, though. It’s not simply an effort to co-opt a term for popular projects into paying for less popular undertakings. It’s part of a deliberate and long-term effort by the center-left to stretch the popular understanding of the proper role of government.

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President Barack Obama made this same gambit, in a famously inartful way, in a 2012 campaign speech. To justify tax hikes, Obama cited the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam and explained, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet.”

This was an extension of an argument then-Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren made a year earlier. In arguing that nobody in America ever “got rich on his own,” Warren said:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. ... You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory and hire someone to protect against this because of the work the rest of us did.”

These weren’t elementary lectures about public works. This was an effort to change how we view “earnings.” You don’t really deserve the money you “earned,” this argument goes, because you earned it in the context of a society. If Warren or Obama were simply saying that humans don’t realize their full potential outside of society, it would be a fine (if possibly banal) point. But “you didn’t build that” was an attempt to justify higher taxes, such as the ones Biden is proposing in his infrastructure measure.

That is, the Warrens, Obamas, and Bidens of the world want to establish that everything foundational to civil society and the economy is the sort of infrastructure that is properly in the realm of the government. Thus, government becomes not an institution among many but the undergirding of our whole lives.

That’s an ambitious building project.

Tags: Opinion, Magazine - Special Section, Infrastructure, Transportation, Economy, Business, Spending, Manufacturing, Government, Joe Biden, Congress, Democratic Party, Jobs

Original Author: Timothy P. Carney

Original Location: What is Biden talking about?

Biden’s fight to de-Trumpify the courts, explained .
Biden is the president liberal court watchers have been waiting for, but he may be five years too late.A longtime member and former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden oversaw hundreds of judicial confirmations. He chaired the 1987 hearing that successfully convinced the Senate to reject Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court; then presided over a far less successful hearing that preceded Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation in 1991.

usr: 1
This is interesting!