The first political and economic debate on the US plan for President Biden’s $ 2 trillion jobs is dominated by a philosophical question: What does infrastructure really mean?
Does he understand the traditional idea of repairing roads, building bridges and funding other tangible projects? Or, in a changing economy, is it expanding to include initiatives like investing in broadband electric car charging stations and care for elderly and disabled Americans?
This is the debate that looms as Republicans attack Mr Biden’s plan with pie charts and scathing quotes, claiming he is only allocating a small fraction of the money to ‘real’ infrastructure and that spending to fix issues like home care, electric vehicles, and even water. pipes should not count.
“Even if you stretch the definition of infrastructure, that’s about 30% of the $ 2.25 trillion they’re talking about spending,” Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, told Fox News Sunday. “.
“When people think of infrastructure, they think of roads, bridges, ports and airports,” he added to TBEN on “This Week”.
Mr Biden pushed back on Monday, saying that after years of pushing for infrastructure spending including power lines, internet cables and other programs beyond transportation, Republicans had narrowed their definition to exclude key items of his plan.
“It’s quite interesting that when the Republicans presented an infrastructure plan, they thought of everything from broadband to other things,” the president told reporters on Monday. “Their definition of infrastructure has changed.”
Economists widely agree that infrastructure now means more than just roads and bridges and extends to the building blocks of a modern, high-tech service economy – broadband, for example.
But even some economists who have carefully studied the shift say the Biden plan pushes the boundaries of what matters.
Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard University, is working on an infrastructure project for the National Bureau of Economic Research which receives funding from the Department of Transportation. He said several provisions of Mr Biden’s bill may or may not have merit, but fall outside a conventional definition of infrastructure, such as improving the country’s affordable housing stock and expanding access to health care for elderly and disabled Americans.
“It does the English language a little bit violence, doesn’t it?” Said Mr. Glaeser.
Supporters of reviewing most of Mr Biden’s proposals – including roads, bridges, broadband access, support for home health aids and even efforts to strengthen unions – argue that in the 21st century, anything that helps people work and lead productive or fulfilling lives counts as infrastructure. This includes investments in people, such as creating well-paying union jobs or raising the wages of a home health workforce dominated by women of color.
“I couldn’t go to work if I had to take care of my parents,” said Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “How is it not an infrastructure?”