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Capital Matters

A Halfway-Sane Infrastructure Proposal

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.) questions during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2021. (Greg Nash/Reuters)

Earlier this year, when Democrats wanted to spend yet another $2 trillion on “COVID relief,” much of which wasn’t even COVID relief, some moderate Republicans made a roughly $600 billion counteroffer. I called the proposal “halfway sane”: more than we really needed to spend, but far better than what Biden had proposed. As you may recall, the Democrats went ahead and passed their own plan without Republican help, using the “reconciliation” process to avoid a filibuster.

Well, now the Democrats want to spend about $2 trillion on “infrastructure,” much of which isn’t even infrastructure. And once again moderate Republicans are prepping a smaller counteroffer, likely in the range of $600–800 billion. It’s “more targeted in scope and funded by unspecified user fees,” as Politico puts it.

This too is halfway sane. Our infrastructure is not in as bad of shape as some like to say, and most of our actual problems can be addressed at the local and state rather than federal level. But cutting the size of the package by two-thirds would be a victory, as would funding infrastructure with user fees rather than tax hikes on businesses. The people who actually benefit from these projects should be the ones to pay for them.

Will Democrats just ignore this like they did the COVID counteroffer? On the one hand, Joe Manchin still seems disinclined to get rid of the filibuster or overuse the reconciliation process, so this might be an attractive opportunity to get 60 votes. On the other, it’s much less spending, and user fees — possibly including a tax on vehicle miles traveled — could violate Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year.

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