The Corner

Fiscal Policy

Bigger Government Is the Most Immediate Effect of the Infrastructure Bill

Despite all the promises about how the bipartisan infrastructure bill will transform American transportation and solve the supply-chain crisis, the law’s most immediate effect is to massively increase the size of government.

Most infrastructure, including the entire Interstate Highway System, is owned and operated by state governments, not the federal government. But the bipartisan infrastructure bill does not give money to state governments. It gives money to the federal Department of Transportation, which will then distribute the money to states through grant programs.

This is not the most obvious way to fund infrastructure, but it has two effects that Democrats, the party of government, will enjoy.

First, the Department of Transportation will go on a hiring spree. FreightWaves reports that the DOT’s budget will go from about $90 billion to about $140 billion, an increase of about 50 percent. But don’t worry, it’s for the best reasons. “A big concern with the major pot of federal investment dollars,” FreightWaves says, is “protecting the money from mismanagement and fraud.” Pete Buttigieg is quoted in the story: “We have an executive council with the deputy secretary and undersecretary, as well as myself, paying close attention to how we can make sure we have all of the right controls, the right rigor to make sure these dollars are spent well.”

Got that? The executive council of political appointees overseeing a massively expanded bureaucracy will prevent waste.

Second, the bill makes Pete Buttigieg one of the most powerful people in Washington. His department has the money and the power to decide who gets it. Everyone who wants anything built in the U.S. is going to come begging to the Department of Transportation. Secretary of transportation is usually not a very influential position, but Democrats who see Buttigieg as the future of their party want to give him a chance to exert some real influence, and this bill does that.

Phil wrote over the weekend that Americans are concerned that Biden will do too much to expand the role of government. They’re right to be concerned. While a lot of things remain uncertain about the infrastructure bill’s effects, one thing’s for sure: It creates bigger government.


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