The Republican response to President Joe Biden's $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan strips away a lot of bells and whistles while focusing entirely on traditional infrastructure, yet a $1.43 trillion gulf remains to be bridged between the two sides. The nation has grown far too comfortable throwing around trillion-dollar plans to fix whatever is wrong as politicians avoid the truth that the federal money spigot has run dry. Multitrillion-dollar emergency spending for the pandemic was understandable, but it's time to get real about what the nation actually can accomplish with the extremely limited financial resources at hand.
Biden's plan goes far beyond repairing dilapidated bridges and rebuilding highways. Despite the need to address underfunding for in-home care, it's disingenuous to label this as an infrastructure problem deserving of a $400 billion outlay. Affordable housing would receive $213 billion. Another $25 billion would help child care facilities. Those sectors absolutely need financial infusions, but a massive infrastructure package isn't the place for them.
Besides, when such massive expenditures become the norm, the likelihood increases for tens of billions of dollars to be lost through waste, fraud and abuse — billions the federal government simply doesn't have.
On the positive side, Republicans are just as anxious as Democrats to approve an aggressive infrastructure package. It was only three years ago when President Donald Trump proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. But even with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, Trump couldn't get the deal done because both sides balked at the price tag and the list of beneficiaries poised to rake in cash at taxpayers' expense.
Republicans have no basis to assert fiscal responsibility, but they understandably are in no mood to debate a package that includes social-justice items designed to advance Biden's standing with the progressive wing of his party. Somewhere between the GOP's $568 billion plan and Biden's $2 trillion fantasy is the spot where both sides ultimately will land. The wrangling will include debate on how much to increase corporate income taxes to pay for it. But some increase is essential, especially since corporate America would benefit significantly from infrastructure upgrades to the airports, ports, railways and roadways vital to moving corporate America's commerce.
There was a time not long ago when a GOP offer to spend hundreds of billions on anything promoted by a Democratic administration would have been unthinkable. This time, Republican leaders acknowledge $568 billion is just their starting position for negotiation. The nation has just endured its most politically divisive and violent period since the Civil War, capped by the Jan. 6 insurrection. Americans need to see both parties coming together to accomplish something good, with tangible, job-creating benefits for everyone.
A focus on the basics — roads, bridges, water pipes and broadband access — is the fastest way to get both parties working in the same direction and ending this destructive rancor.
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