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Biden Seeks New View of Infrastructure 04/09 06:19

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is giving himself lots of latitude 
when he defines infrastructure for the purpose of spending money on it. It's 
not just steel, but home health care workers. Not just excavating dirt, but 
building "dignity."

   The Republican Party says if it's not a pothole, port, plane or bridge, 
forget about it. Never mind that Donald Trump, like Biden, wanted schools to 
get a piece of an infrastructure pie.

   At least in theory, everyone likes infrastructure and is willing to spend 
big on it. That's why the definition of infrastructure matters as Biden tries 
to sell the country and Congress on the largest such package in generations.

   In short, the bulk of Biden's plan does not fit the traditional 
understanding of infrastructure, meaning below the structure, or foundational. 
Biden and his team have performed rhetorical gymnastics to make almost 
everything in the package sound infrastructure-ish.

   For example, strengthening the right of workers to join unions does not 
resemble concrete in an underpass. But a White House fact sheet argues that 
stronger union rights would "put in place an infrastructure to create good 
middle-class jobs," an argument that could be used to justify domestic spending 
on lots of things. Democrats are adding another layer to the definition as they 
take part in a weekend event about the "care infrastructure."

   The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, has taken a strict and 
distorted view of what counts as infrastructure, for the purpose of scoring 
points against Biden.

   Roads, bridges, waterways, ports and airports count, but public transit, 
utilities and other foundational elements of the economy and daily lives don't, 
the GOP contends.

   Here's the RNC in an email Wednesday:

   "Biden's non-infrastructure bill hikes taxes by $2 trillion ... all while 
only spending 7% of the bill on roads, highways, bridges, waterways, ports, and 
airports combined."

   And one from April 1:

   "Joe Biden's 'infrastructure' plan is not really about infrastructure, it is 
another multi-trillion dollar far left wish list. Just 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 proposed money goes to traditional 
infrastructure is false. It's 30% to 40% by traditional yardsticks. And at 
least some of the rest is closely related to infrastructure, if not a classic 
example of it.

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

   But that narrow focus omits other transportation-related spending, like $85 
billion for public transit, $80 billion for Amtrak rail service and $20 billion 
to improve road safety.

   In all, even the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a 
deficit-hawk organization that does not like footloose government accounting or 
wasteful spending, described $621 billion in Biden's plan, or roughly 30%, as 
"transportation infrastructure."

   Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a Senate Republican leader, says if Biden just 
went for that 30%, "you've got an easy bipartisan win here."

   By any cogent definition, of course, a country's infrastructure isn't 
limited to transportation. There are also utilities and communication systems 
at the core of society.

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

   Faster internet is a relatively new component of infrastructure spending, 
but not brand new. Although Trump's infrastructure plan never came together, he 
wanted it to include money for broadband expansion "for our great farmers and 
rural areas," as his White House put it.

   The Republican National Committee didn't hang its frowny quotation marks 
around "infrastructure" when Trump proposed this.

   Trump, like Biden though in much less detail, also ventured into grayer 
areas stretching the meaning of infrastructure. Here's how he described his 
infrastructure hopes in his 2016 victory speech:

   "We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, 
tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We're going to rebuild our 
infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put 
millions of our people to work as we rebuild it."

   Trump's description turns out to be a reasonable overview of the plan 
reaching Congress, but by the hand of Biden.

   Biden's plan makes good on Trump's advocacy of infrastructure money for 
schools and hospitals as well as for roads, bridges and the like, while going 
farther into new territory. He proposes $400 billion to expand access to 
long-term, home and community-based care services. And he's got an estimated 
$400 billion for clean energy, never a Trump priority.

   One component is aimed at redressing the inequities of past infrastructure. 
Many roads of the past were built in ways that destroyed Black communities, and 
Biden's plan proposes $20 billion to try to restore that torn fabric.

   There's also $590 billion for somewhat vaguely defined job training 
initiatives and research and development.

   What do the dictionaries say about all of this? Traditional definitions 
envisage facilities, not programs like job training or home health care aides.

   "A substructure or underlying foundation; especially, the basic economic, 
social, or military facilities and installations of a community, state, etc." 
says Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, from 1983.

   From 1887, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary: "The installations 
that form the basis for any operation or system. Originally in a military 
sense."

   In Washington, though, such things aren't defined by dictionaries but by who 
wins the argument.

   Biden's definition: the foundation that people need "to live, to go to work, 
to raise their families with dignity, to ensure that good jobs will be there 
for their kids, no matter who they are or what ZIP code they live in. That's 
what infrastructure means in the 21st century."

   He asserted: "Two hundred years ago, trains weren't traditional 
infrastructure, either, until America made a choice to lay down tracks across 
the country."

   Biden's point was rhetorical. Noah Webster's first comprehensive American 
Dictionary of the English Language, from 1828, doesn't address infrastructure 
at all.

 
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