Biden’s Infrastructure Plan: Will a Deal Get Done?

City streets had been flooded for hours before the hurricane made landfall in Louisiana on the morning of August 29, 2005.  Levees all around New Orleans had collapsed, and by 5 a.m., the city’s largest canal, the 17th Street Canal, failed. 

Over 1,800 souls lost their lives, and billions of dollars in damage was left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Scientists predict that once-in-a-generation natural disasters like this one may become more prevalent in the coming years, given the effects of climate change.  Even so, President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan intends to address this genuine concern. 

The American Jobs Plan

In a speech delivered just outside of Pittsburgh in late March, President Biden introduced the American Jobs Plan.  This sweeping initiative would spend over $2 trillion to prevent infrastructure disasters like the one in New Orleans and provide a renewed foundation for businesses and individuals to compete globally in the twenty-first-century marketplace.

To be sure, President Biden’s proposal is more ambitious than we’ve seen in generations.  His package includes spending on preventable infrastructure failures while funding traditional bridge and road repairs.  Simultaneously, the plan makes provisions for investments in quality-of-life essentials like clean water, quality education, and telecommunications improvements while funding caregiving assistance for an aging population and creating globally competitive U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Proposed Spending on Biden’s American Jobs Plan

Following decades of false starts, it appears that the U.S. is finally on the cusp of beginning its most ambitious infrastructure program in years.  But will a deal get done?  Now, Joe Biden isn’t the first president to propose ambitious infrastructure spending.  In fact, many infrastructure plans have been introduced in recent years.  From Clinton to Bush, Obama and Trump, each administration put forward its ideas to repair bridges, fix roads and future-proof the economy, only to face gridlock on Capitol Hill.

A lack of political will

There’s little debate among members of Congress that U.S. infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. From preventable levee failures in New Orleans to a bridge collapse in Minneapolis and bus-swallowing sinkholes in Downtown Pittsburgh, politicians have voiced their concerns about the work that’s needed.  Nevertheless, a challenge for previous administrations has been an inability to overcome a lack of political will to get a meaningful infrastructure bill passed through congress.  Will the Democratic president’s proposal meet a similar fate? 

On the surface, taxes and spending appear to be a central point of contention for some GOP members. To this point, the Biden administration is striving to find middle ground.  Even so, a key challenge may be a deep-seated issue of politicians worrying that they’d be unable to defend a trillion-dollar bill to their constituencies who may not see the benefits of the legislation for years to come.  So, what’s changed that would enable an infrastructure deal to get done this time around?

Impetus for deal making

Well, first, there’s the issue with China.  Both Republicans and Democrats agree that China’s economic advance has come at a cost for U.S. businesses and workers.  While taking on China directly is one approach to the matter, there’s little doubt that failing infrastructure is hampering our country’s ability to compete with the world’s second-largest economy.  Therefore, addressing deferred maintenance and investing in technologically underdeveloped parts of the economy will be essential to responding to economic challengers and preserving our nation’s global leadership.

Second, before COVID-19, arguably few widely relatable examples existed to demonstrate how fundamental education, childcare, and eldercare are to the smooth functioning of the economy.  The coronavirus nevertheless laid bare the striking deficit in U.S. social infrastructure.  To be sure, many of us have had intimate experiences with the education and healthcare shortfalls amidst the pandemic.  Looking ahead, it is difficult to dispute how investments in these vital areas of the economy will be essential to creating and supporting a competitive and productive labor force for generations to come.

And speaking of productivity, the pandemic showed how efficient technological infrastructure can keep some workers engaged and how investments in next-generation technology (like 5G) might further boost worker output.  At the same time, however, the healthcare crisis exposed the stark inequalities as many households fundamentally lack access to necessary technological infrastructure.  Whether it’s for school, work, or to register for a vaccine, the technology divide further reveals economic weaknesses that must be addressed if we are going to promote tools that benefit everyone in all aspects of our lives.  

Will a deal get done?

So, will Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan make its way into law this year?  Will a deal get done?  Well, politics is fraught with uncertainty, and truly anything can happen in the coming months. However, what is certain are the shortcomings in our transportation, technological and social infrastructure amidst rapidly changing natural and geopolitical environments. 

Indeed, Katrina exposed the inadequacies of our infrastructure amidst climate change while COVID showed us how a lack of social infrastructure investment might put one of the most technologically advanced economies at risk of leaving its citizens, and truly, the nation as a whole, behind. The implications of these glaring disparities and shortcomings are today harder to ignore and might be reason why, after decades of fits and starts, politicians from both sides of the aisle may defend spending large sums to finally get a deal done.