The time has been nigh for President Joe Biden to make good on his "Build Back Better" campaign slogan, and this week he laid out a $2 trillion infrastructure blueprint that does, in fact, think big. And it promises big — in terms of bricks and mortar, in terms of climate and in terms of people.
The proposal includes the usual catch-up stuff: $115 billion to repair, rebuild and make resilient bridges, highways and roads, as well as another $100 billion to upgrade and build new schools.
The plan also is futuristic in calling for $100 billion in expansions of high-speed broadband across the entire country, and another $100 billion to expand and improve power lines and an essential grid system to push a clean energy shift, along with another $50 billion to subsidize semiconductor manufacturing.
Finally it goes toward a kind of infrastructure we really haven't much thought of as infrastructure, though it very much is a rather old-fashioned kind of foundational people stabilizer: $400 billion for the "care economy" — home- and community-based services for the disabled and elderly.
It is big thinking. And it's good big thinking.
President Biden acknowledges the enormity of the plan, and he justifies it.
"It's not a plan that tinkers around the edges," he said of the blueprint this week. "It's a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we've seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it's the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs."
At the same time, those new jobs will help combat the perils of climate change by speeding the nation's shift away from fossil fuels and making our homes and delivery systems more resilient to climate change's extreme weather. The plan's superconductor aim doubles as an effort to compete with the technology and public investments made by China, which has the world's second-largest economy and is fast gaining on the United States' dominant position.
"I'm convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say this is the moment when America won the future," Biden said.
Already, no doubt, cost alarms are ringing in your head. How do we pay for it? A better question may well be how do we not pay for it? What are the alternatives?
Leading Democrats have suggested doing away with the former President Trump's 2017 tax cuts and imposing new taxes on the super wealthy. In fact, that is Biden's plan to raise the necessary stacks of money over 15 years. After that time, he says, that same revenue stream would reduce the deficit going forward.
Leading Republicans — primarily Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — call Biden's tax idea a non-starter.
Let's see then: What else should we be spending big money on? Oh, of course: The GOP would pony up for another giant round of tax cuts for the super rich and well-connected corporations.
Talk about a non-starter.
The theory behind the tax cuts of 2017 (and any unicorn future one) was the age-old Republican ploy that tax cuts to the rich and corporations would "trickle down" from those benefited to increase wage and job investments for the rest of us regular folks. It didn't happen.
"We saw none of that," Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, told the Washington Post this week as partisan squabbling began over the plan.
Numerous reports since 2017, including an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, found lowered corporate rates had only a "relatively small" effect on the economy. The tax cuts did not pay for themselves. In fact, they failed to break even and make up for the billions of dollars in lost corporate tax revenue.
"Ninety-one Fortune 500 Companies, including Amazon, pay not a single solitary penny in income tax," Biden said.
But that's where investment in the future, rather than corporate welfare, comes to play.
As New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman wrote earlier this week, Biden's green aspirations are not just about unleashing spending, they also are about unleashing capitalism: "You need a whole lot of everything — wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, batteries, efficient materials. And the only way to get that kind of scale is by leveraging the market — by getting all kinds of public-private partnerships going that reduce carbon and grow profits."
Naysayers abound, of course. Especially it seems, with electric vehicles. But automakers are already climbing on board. Many, including General Motors, Volkswagen and Ford, have made big electric vehicle promises. And Biden has outlined some still vague but planned incentives for electric car purchases — perhaps rebates available at the "point of sale."
Another supposed problem from naysayers is what they view as the limitations of electric vehicle recharge stations. Biden's plan calls for a national network of 500,000 E.V. charging stations. But wait, there already are about 41,000 charging stations with more than 100,000 outlets today — many pioneered here in Tennessee after some of the first electric cars were assembled in the Volunteer State. And did we mention that there are only 115,000 gas stations in the U.S., according to Market Watch?
Naysayers needn't worry. Friedman is right. Capitalism will find a way.