Hey, is it finally Infrastructure Week?
It’s not the sexiest topic, certainly not compared to the bizarre Matt Gaetz investigation or even the Biden dog biting someone again after a stint in reeducation camp. That’s why it became a running joke during the Trump administration, when plans to highlight such an initiative kept getting overshadowed by some controversy or scandal.
But President Biden made it the centerpiece of a Pittsburgh speech yesterday, unveiling a plan that will cost, oh, more than $2 trillion—more, in other words, than his just-passed Covid relief bill.
Now I’m a fan of infrastructure projects, which help communities, create jobs and can be popular with both parties in a bringing-home-the-bacon kind of way. But the passage of this bill is a crapshoot.
Yet some major news outlets are absolutely swooning. Take this headline from CNN:
“With an Eye on History, Biden Moves on Big, Bold and Progressive Infrastructure Package.”
Doesn’t that sound like it’s ripped from a White House press release?
The piece begins: “Every day he works from the Oval Office, President Joe Biden stares across from his desk at the portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt he selected to hang above his fireplace.”
In case you missed the point: “Biden hopes to model the more transformational change offered by his acronym’d 20th-century predecessors, FDR and LBJ…He envisions a moment–one where a country ravaged by the pandemic has seen fragilities in the economy exacerbated to a level of unseen hardship–where he can usher in a transformative era…Biden is deeply conscious that it is now his moment to step up.”
Do you have the vague impression that CNN is rooting for the president?
Okay, it’s historic, it’s filled with goodies, it has echoes of the New Deal. But it’s a massive amount of money and may not pass.
The New York Times uses a torrent of statistics to spotlight the plan’s benefits, from mass transit and Amtrak to broadband.
That “would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes and service lines from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.
“Biden administration officials said the proposal…would also accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equity in the economy…The scale of the proposal underscores how fully Mr. Biden has embraced the opportunity to use federal spending to address longstanding social and economic challenges in a way not seen in half a century.”
That’s an LBJ reference, if you didn’t do the math.
Not until the seventh paragraph does the Times inject this note of reality: “While spending on roads, bridges and other physical improvements to the nation’s economic foundations has always had bipartisan appeal, Mr. Biden’s plan is sure to draw intense Republican opposition, both for its sheer size and for its reliance on corporate tax increases to pay for it.”
Which could, of course, sink the whole thing.
Contrast that article with the Washington Post’s more tempered approach. Its headline says: “White House Unveils $2 Trillion Infrastructure and Climate Plan, Setting Up Giant Battle Over Size and Cost of Government.” At least that gets across there’s a major fight that has two sides.
By the third paragraph, the Post cautions: “The administration’s promises are vast and may prove difficult to enact, even if the effort can get through Democrats’ extremely narrow majority in Congress.”
Look, with a 50-50 Senate, Biden can’t pass anything of this scale, even through reconciliation, unless Joe Manchin agrees. And the key question is how to pay for it. Not everyone on the Hill is excited about raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
The White House was smart to put out the details before Biden’s speech and frame the issue in advance. But that doesn’t mean the media have to pile on the FDR references and help sell the bill.