Harrison: Go Big or Go Home

Don’t be distracted by Republicans’ crocodile tears; Biden’s proposed “American Jobs Plan” is desperately needed.

by Michael Harrison | 5/3/21 2:10am

For decades now, America has been falling behind other advanced countries in terms of its physical and non-physical infrastructure. While the sight of crumbling roads and bridges, the prevalence of unsafe drinking water and the scarcity of well-funded public schools should not be accepted as the norm in any country — rich or poor — the startling reality is that the wealthiest country in the world is, in fact, complicit in the deprivation of essential services to its own people. Fortunately, the Biden administration recently put forth proposed legislation to tackle the uniquely American infrastructure crisis. The American Jobs Plan would invest $2 trillion in, among other things, creating “green” jobs, attempting to address inequities in transportation and initiating efforts to bring certain communities — particularly those in rural and underserved parts of the country — into the 21st century with high speed broadband. 

Despite the plan’s capacity to address some of the largest issues facing our country,  Republicans have vociferously denounced the AJP as a “liberal wish list” and “fiscally irresponsible” before Congress has even held a single hearing on it. Before delving any deeper into the necessity of the AJP and the risk of not acting boldly enough, it should be noted that average Americans — not the Republican politicians making the rounds on Fox News — largely support Biden’s infrastructure goals. That’s because Biden’s conception of upgrading our infrastructure is intentionally — and thankfully — broad; in addition to repairing roads and bridges, the proposal includes building high-speed rail, modernizing child care facilities and ensuring essential home care workers are paid equitably. Biden and Congress have a choice: go big or go home. And if they don’t go big, the consequences will be felt for generations to come.

The AJP has the potential to be Biden’s signature domestic policy achievement. One need not be a policymaker at a D.C. think tank to recognize how central America’s infrastructure is to most of the matters that currently plague the country, such as climate change and socioeconomic inequality. Of course, the $2.29 trillion price tag of the AJP may underpin Republicans’ efforts to delegitimize it via fear-inducing infobars on conservative cable networks. But consider how almost every single major policy initiative in the past was also expensive: Social Security in the 1930s; Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s; the Affordable Care Act in the 2010s. Moreover, the cost of any piece of legislation is rather meaningless if it isn’t discussed alongside the oftentimes higher cost of inaction. In this case, the cost of inaction is estimated by the Chamber of Commerce to be a whopping $7 trillion and 2.5 million jobs lost by 2025. In the light of this, I can’t help but laugh at the rash of ridiculous Republican counter-proposals that have popped up in recent weeks. I’m sorry, but $568 billion just won’t cut it. Clearly, Republicans are more interested in stifling the Biden Administration with more political theater than in voting in the best interests of their constituents.

It’s especially rich to watch Senate Republicans squirm at the mere mention of the AJP’s price tag just because it contains the word “trillion,” after they passed their own deficit-financed $2.3 trillion tax cut in 2017. In a way, the AJP might just be the thing that could save Republican lawmakers from themselves. The AJP has the potential to stimulate the economy and is largely paid for, thus offsetting some of the deficits that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has already given rise to.

It’s vitally important that all Americans — not just those who have to live with the effects of America’s neglect of its infrastructure and individuals belonging to marginalized communities, or, worse yet, those at the intersection — understand the necessity of passing the AJP. Many Dartmouth students come from privileged backgrounds and have not likely had to experience living without affordable broadband in rural Washington, drinking polluted water in rural California or driving over one of Tennessee’s 953 bridges deemed “structurally-deficient.” Nevertheless, all students should recognize just how dire the consequences of inaction could be for all Americans. The U.S. runs the risk of losing its competitive edge to a country like China, having ecosystems ravaged by environmentally unsustainable energy practices and pushing its public health infrastructure — particularly in disadvantaged communities — to the brink of collapse. 

Surely no American, whether rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, would want to live in a country that has decided that it is past its prime, willing to surrender itself to the harms of climate change, persistent socioeconomic inequalities and the drying up of private investment. In short, political gamesmanship surrounding the AJP serves one purpose: to distract Americans, who might not otherwise be aware of the severity of America’s infrastructure crisis, from pushing for bold action immediately. While Republican politicians may be keen on thwarting the will of the American people yet again, the rest of us cannot afford to fall for their crocodile tears.