The US Senate approved a 2,702-page long infrastructure bill on Tuesday (10), which contains a colossal $1.1 trillion in spending. The law will now go to the Chamber of Deputies, which will evaluate it in September.
Following months of negotiation, 19 Republicans and all 50 Democrats supported the measure. The 19 Republicans include minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, plus Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Captain of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, James Risch of Idaho, Mitt Romney of Utah, Dan Sullivan from Alaska, Thom Tillis from North Carolina and Roger Wicker from Mississippi.
(Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who spoke out against the final bill, lost the vote because of his wife’s cancer treatments, he reported. the hill.)
This support from both parties can give the impression that the legislation is somewhere on the average, as is the case with most infrastructure projects.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth, the project gives big victories to the left on several fronts:
1. Prepares a $3.5 trillion partisan social spending package
Leading Democrats promised the infrastructure project would not become law unless it is associated with a $3.5 trillion package, passed under party guidelines through a budget rule known as reconciliation.
The Senate will work on its wording this week, with detailed instructions for several key committees. The goals exposed so far seem like a progressive wish list: widespread expansion of social welfare, increased taxes that will kill jobs, aggressive climate agenda, an attempt to give amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants, and so on.
Finalizing the infrastructure bill would only serve to accelerate the biggest spending and tax increase program in history.
2. Demonstrates Republican support for increasing deficits just before the struggle for the debt limit
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill will increase the deficit by $256 billion. That’s a lot, as it doesn’t have a $118 billion bailout from the Highway Guarantee Fund.
That means the bill will actually add at least $2,900 per family to US debt.
Given that the debt is already over $220,000 per family and rising, this is a perfect example of the financial irresponsibility of US leaders.
The timing is especially problematic as there is an important and imminent battle over the US debt limit. The limit, which expired on July 31, will need to be readjusted soon to avoid a credit crunch.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans will not support an unrestrained increase in the debt limit given the large spending agenda the Democrats are planning. There is solid logic behind McConnell’s position, as long as increases in the debt ceiling are accompanied by reforms to reduce future deficits.
Supporting a debt-ridden infrastructure package just before debating its limit could weaken that position.
3. Incorporates leftist concepts of “social justice” and climate into the infrastructure
Infrastructure is traditionally more about practicality than sentimentality or fads.
However, the bill would make a variety of progressive causes part of federal policy, such as the obsession with “equity”, providing special treatment for “disadvantaged” groups, establishing a new bureaucracy to increase the number of female truck drivers, and the Digital Equity Act, which includes expanding internet access for prisoners.
The bill also stipulates spending tens of billions on subsidies for electric vehicles and charging points, electric buses, electric ferries, “green” energy production, mandatory “climate change” reporting and even half a billion dollars for try to cool the pavement of cities.
Again, progressive activist groups are demanding dramatic increases in spending in the future, which will be much easier once climate-related programs are established.
4. Enables an anti-car schedule
The United States is a huge country with an average population density much lower than places like China, Europe and Japan. As such, cars and roads are the best way to meet the vast majority of transportation needs.
However, the left has a long-standing agenda of wanting to get Americans out of automobiles, no matter what is feasible. Many programs included in the infrastructure bill are designed to advance this agenda.
Since federal initiatives often expand over time, allowing these provisions to take root is a terrible idea. They include:
- Federal funding of local projects that involve “calming traffic”. This is closely related to the leftist concept of “road diets” endorsed by Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg. In other words, this means deliberately slowing down traffic and creating congestion.
- While the bill does not directly impose a federal tax on miles traveled by cars, it does provide $125 million for studies and pilot projects to encourage state governments in that direction.
- $1 billion for a “community reconnection” program that would bring down highways in urban areas. The Biden administration’s “infrastructure” plan called for $20 billion, and several activist groups are already demanding more. Politicians often (and inaccurately) cite “ruined roads and bridges” to justify spending on infrastructure, but in this case, ruined roads would be the goal.
- Dedicating as large a share of new spending to public transportation and intercity railroads as to highways, although rail and rail transport represent a tiny share of American travel. Activists demand that roads and public transport receive equal funding, and the Senate bill is a big step in that direction.
5. Gives more power to the capital Washington
For more than a century, one of the central goals of the progressive movement has been to expand the size and reach of the federal government. This took on many shapes and sizes.
In some cases, it means Washington takes responsibility for things that are normally controlled at the local level.
The Senate bill stipulates $55 billion spent on local water systems, which in many cases will mean the enfranchisement of municipal governments that have neglected one of their core functions.
In other cases, it involves “Uncle Sam” giving checks to state governments involving many commitments.
The Senate Infrastructure Project creates dozens of programs in which bureaucrats in Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation decide how to distribute more than $100 billion in infrastructure grants. Buttigieg emphasized that he will prioritize progressive goals related to race and “fairness” in such decisions.
Most insidious of all is when the federal government gets into the private sector. The Senate bill does so in two main areas: energy and broadband internet.
A total of $138 billion would go to a variety of subsidies, charges and government-operated businesses that compete with private providers.
But the swelling of the federal Leviathan isn’t just a problem for conservative supporters of limited government. Reducing the power of state and local governments turns federal elections into a winner-takes-all competition.
Rather than trying to impose a single version across all 50 states and thousands of municipalities, Americans would be better off under the founding principle of federalism.
6. Bury the principle of “the user pays”
Historically, it is understood that people who use infrastructure should be responsible for paying for it. We see this in the form of things like highway tolls, utility fees and airport fees that are part of flight fees.
This common sense approach serves to prevent bad infrastructure projects from starting, since if no one wants to pay for it, it won’t get off the ground.
However, the left has continually inserted a number of non-road programs into the Federal Highway Guarantee Fund, which is mainly fed by the federal fuel tax.
Each year, billions of dollars are transferred to public transport, bicycle paths, trams, sidewalks and ferries, at the expense of the country’s motorists.
The Senate infrastructure project would expand this flawed approach by funding new infrastructure spending from unrelated sources, many of which (such as the Strategic Oil Reserve and radio wave auctions) are spent budget gimmicks.
Providing bipartisan approval of infrastructure financing by non-users is a dam-breaking threat for years to come, especially for the high-priced, low-demand white elephants that left-wing activists love.
And even those six items don’t cover all of the 2,702-page monster’s problems.
It’s difficult to express the extent to which the Senate’s infrastructure bill would permanently leave US policy on the left, which is why it’s imperative for the House to step on the brakes when it takes over the bill in September.
David Ditch is a policy analyst specializing in budget and transportation policy at the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget at the Heritage Foundation.