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Infrastructure compromise reached — don’t blow it

Thanks in large measure to the faith of President Biden that compromise is still possible in Washington on important matters, and also to the work of a bipartisan group of senators, the nation is tantalizingly close to getting the major investment in infrastructure that it so desperately needs.

It appears the Democratic-controlled House holds the key to whether a bill is delivered to Biden’s desk for his signature or the compromise crumbles.

The bipartisan Senate negotiators last week agreed on the outline of a $1 trillion plan, with $550 billion in new spending above already projected infrastructure expenditures. It survived a critical procedural vote to move forward in the Senate, with 17 Republicans joining Democrats in doing so.

This is not the bill we would have liked. It comes up short on funding for mass transit alternatives and investment in renewable energy. It is not big enough.

The plans to pay for it are gimmicky, such as repurposing funds originally intended for coronavirus relief, delaying a Trump-era rule on Medicare rebates, improved tax collection on cryptocurrency, and counting on revenue generated from economic growth spurred by the spending. It should instead be paid for honestly, with higher taxes imposed on corporations that will benefit from improved infrastructure.

But Republicans would not back a tax increase or more spending.

“It relies on several phony offsets that will save little or no money,” observed Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Yet it is a serious proposal that includes $110 billion in funding for roads and bridges; a $66 billion investment in rail maintenance, renovation and expansion; $42 billion for ports and airports; nearly $40 billion to improve public transit; $50 billion to prepare for climate change and increasing cyberattacks; $55 billion to replace outdated drinking-water systems; $65 billion to expand broadband in rural and poor urban areas; and $7.5 billion to build a network of electric vehicle charging stations.

In an interview with The Day, Rep. Joe Courtney, the Democrat serving eastern Connecticut’s 2nd District, speculated whether “politically this is probably as good as it is going to get.”

Don’t speculate, congressman, this is as good as it will get.

If the House, upon receiving a Senate bill, seeks to push the Senate into spending more or altering priorities, the result will be a collapse of Republican support in the Senate. The nation would not get the infrastructure investment it needs and the Biden administration would be denied a pivotal policy achievement.

Also looming over the deal is the $3.5 trillion proposal pushed by progressive Democrats, which some have labeled “human infrastructure.” It sounds clever, but it does not fit the reality. This is an antipoverty program, a New Deal approach to use government investment to close the wealth gap, while also investing in green jobs and renewable energy.

It would provide paid family and medical leave as a federal program, subsidize childcare, extend and expand child tax credits, provide universal prekindergarten, and invest in affordable housing. It would also expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing. It sets a goal of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.

It will receive no Republican support. The Democratic plan is to use a budgetary procedure that would allow it to pass the split Senate with just the 50 Democratic votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tiebreaker.

While it has merits, the proposal is too big and a political overreach. Democratic fiscal moderates, such as Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, will demand it be pared down.

Why it endangers the infrastructure bill is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has suggested the House will not take up the infrastructure proposal until the massive antipoverty program wins approval. That is a high-stakes game of chicken that likely would not end well.

The better approach is to prioritize the infrastructure bill. We call on Rep. Courtney, a policy pragmatist, to put his weight behind that effort. With that in hand, progressive House Democrats can work with their Democratic counterparts in the Senate to get a reasonable antipoverty plan approved.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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