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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Biden seeks new vision for infrastructure, far beyond asphalt

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WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden gives himself a lot of leeway when defining infrastructure for the purpose of spending money on it. It’s not just about steel, it’s about home health workers. Not just by digging the earth, but by building “dignity”.

The Republican Party says if it’s not a pothole, a port, a plane or a bridge, forget it. It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump, like Biden, wanted schools to get a piece of the infrastructure pie.

At least in theory, everyone loves infrastructure and is willing to spend a lot on it. That’s why the definition of infrastructure matters, as Biden tries to sell the country and Congress on the biggest package of its kind in generations.

In short, the gist of Biden’s plan does not fit the traditional understanding of infrastructure, i.e. below structure, or fundamental. Biden and his team practiced rhetorical gymnastics so that almost everything in the package was healthy infrastructure.

For example, strengthening the right of workers to join unions does not look like concrete in an underground passage. But a White House fact sheet argues that stronger union rights “would put in place an infrastructure to create good jobs for the middle class,” an argument that could be used to justify national spending on many things. Democrats add another layer to the definition by attending a weekend event on “healthcare infrastructure.”

The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, has taken a strict and distorted view of what counts as infrastructure, in a bid to score points against Biden.

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Roads, bridges, waterways, ports and airports matter, but transit, utilities and other fundamental parts of the economy and daily life don’t, argues the GOP.

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Here is the RNC in an email on Wednesday:

“Biden’s non-infrastructure bill raises taxes by US $ 2 trillion … while spending just 7% of the bill on roads, highways, bridges, waterways, ports and airports combined.”

And one from April 1:

“Joe Biden’s ‘infrastructure’ plan isn’t really about infrastructure, it’s another multi-trillion dollar far-left wishlist. Take a look at the actual bill. Only 7% of the bill’s spending is for what Americans traditionally think of as infrastructure.

The claim that only 7% of the money offered goes to traditional infrastructure is wrong. It is 30 to 40% according to traditional criteria. And at least some of the rest is closely tied to infrastructure, if not a classic example of it.

Based on what the GOP describes as traditional, infrastructure spending would be capped at US $ 157 billion for bridges, highways, roads, main streets, airports, inland waterways, ports and ferries.

But that narrow target omits other transportation-related spending, such as US $ 85 billion for transit, US $ 80 billion for Amtrak rail service, and US $ 20 billion for improving road safety.

In all, even the Non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a loss-making organization that dislikes free government accounting or wasteful spending, described $ 621 billion in Biden’s plan, or about 30 percent, as a “Transport infrastructure”.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a Republican Senate leader, says that if Biden simply went for that 30 percent, “you have an easy bipartisan victory here.”

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By any convincing definition, of course, a country’s infrastructure is not limited to transport. There are also public services and communication systems at the heart of society.

When you add money to energize the power grid, improve drinking water and wastewater, and expand broadband service, about US $ 932 billion, or 40% of Biden’s plan, is point infrastructure.

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A faster Internet is a relatively new element of infrastructure spending, but not entirely new. Although Trump’s infrastructure plan never materialized, he wanted it to include money for broadband expansion “for our big farmers and our rural areas,” as his House put it. White.

The Republican National Committee did not hang its furrowed quotes around “infrastructure” when Trump proposed this.

Trump, like Biden although in much less detail, has also ventured into more gray areas extending the meaning of infrastructure. Here’s how he described his infrastructure hopes in his 2016 victory speech:

“We will repair our downtown areas and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We are going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of people to work as we rebuild it.

Trump’s description turns out to be a reasonable snapshot of the plan reaching Congress, but from Biden’s hand.

Biden’s plan builds on Trump’s plea for infrastructure money for schools and hospitals as well as roads, bridges and the like, while going further into new territory. It is proposing US $ 400 billion to expand access to long-term care, home and community services. And he’s got roughly $ 400 billion for clean energy, never a Trump priority.

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One component aims to correct the inequalities of past infrastructures. Many roads in the past were built in ways that destroyed black communities, and Biden’s plan offers US $ 20 billion to try to restore this torn fabric.

There is also US $ 590 billion for somewhat loosely defined vocational training and research and development initiatives.

What do dictionaries say about all of this? Traditional definitions envision facilities, not programs like vocational training or home health aides.

“A sub-structure or an underlying foundation; in particular, the basic economic, social or military installations and installations of a community, state, etc. Says Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1983.

From 1887, according to the online dictionary of etymology: “The installations which form the basis of any operation or system. Originally in a military sense.

In Washington, however, such things are not defined by dictionaries, but by who wins the argument.

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Biden’s definition: the foundation people need “to live, to go to work, to raise their families with dignity, to ensure that good jobs are there for their children, no matter who they are or where they are.” zip code they live. what infrastructure means in the 21st century. “

He said, “Two hundred years ago, trains weren’t traditional infrastructure either, until America made the choice to create tracks across the country.”

Biden’s point was rhetorical. Noah Webster’s first comprehensive American dictionary of the English language, dating from 1828, does not deal with infrastructure at all.

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