On June 26, 1956, the United States Congress passed the Interstate Highway Act. President Dwight Eisenhower put it into effect three days later. The legislation allocated $ 24.8 billion in federal funds as seed funding for the construction of an interstate highway system.
It doesn’t seem like a lot of money by today’s standards, but the prices are much higher today than they were then, and the country’s economy is much bigger. Calculated as a proportion of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), funds disbursed under the law now amount to $ 1,200 billion. And the interstate highway system was not the only major federal investment program; the government has also spent substantial sums on things like building dams and creating the St. Lawrence Seaway.
It was, in short, a time when politicians were ready to make bold investments in America’s future. And there was a remarkable consensus on the need for these investments. The highway law – the costs of which were covered by higher gasoline taxes and tolls – passed with a large majority in the House and with just one vote against in the Senate.
But the country was different – or, not to hide the reality of what had changed, the Republican Party was different.
I was in the mood to celebrate when President Biden declared the end of infrastructure talks with Senate Republicans. Some reports have described him as a “jerk” to Biden’s agenda. In my interpretation, it was a welcome sign that Biden’s approach to Republicans was only pro forma, and that he was just waiting for the right time to move forward.
Because it was clear to anyone after the dispute over the 2009-2010 healthcare package that Republicans were not negotiating in good faith, were only delaying the process, and would end up rejecting anything Biden would agree to. The sooner this farce was over, the better.
But how and why did Republicans become the “don’t build” party? To me, it’s a mixture of partisanship, ideology and greed.
It was considered alarmist to say that Republicans were deliberately sabotaging the economy under President Barack Obama. We were supposed to believe that their demands for spending cuts in a period of high unemployment, which has significantly delayed economic recovery, reflected genuine concern about the implications of the budget deficit. But the way the GOP lost interest in deficits once Donald Trump came to power confirmed absolutely everything the cynics had said.
And a party prepared to sabotage the economy in the Obama era will certainly be even more inclined to sabotage a president many of its members refuse to accept as legitimate. Increased public investment is popular, especially if the costs are paid for by higher taxes on businesses and the wealthy. And that would also create jobs. But because a Democrat occupies the White House, these are reasons for Republicans to block infrastructure spending rather than support it.
That said, it must be admitted that Senate Republicans, especially Mitch McConnell, also blocked infrastructure spending when Trump was in the White House. The main reason the term Infra Week became a joke was the Trump administration’s incompetence and lack of seriousness, and its inability to formulate anything that sounded like a cohesive plan. But McConnell’s resistance, his passive-aggressive stance, also influenced the outcome.
Why did this happen? Since the Reagan era, Republicans have taken the position that government is always the problem, never the solution – and, of course, that taxes should always be reduced, never increased. They would not make an exception for infrastructure. The very fact that an infrastructure plan is popular militates against its approval; Republicans fear this may help legitimize a bigger role for government as a whole.
Finally, the modern Republican Party seems deeply allergic to any form of public program that does not give private operators a role in the pursuit of profit, even if it is difficult to see what these operators could be used for. For example, unlike the rest of the federal Medicare health care program, federal drug cost coverage, enacted under President George W. Bush, can only be obtained through private companies.
When Trump’s advisers announced their infrastructure “plan” (it was little more than a vague project), I immediately noticed that they carefully avoided emphasizing that it would be possible to build infrastructure like this. Eisenhower did. Instead, the proposal involved a complex and certainly impractical system of tax credits for private investors who the idea’s authors hoped would build the infrastructure we need.
If Trump’s people had attempted to create an infrastructure plan, it likely would have sounded like the only investment program his government has put in place, creating “zones of opportunity” that are said to benefit Americans living in remote areas. low income areas. What the program ended up doing, in fact, was offering a windfall to wealthy investors, who used tax breaks to build things like luxury condos.
It can be summed up as follows: the modern Republican Party only implements public programs if they offer vast opportunities for undue profits for some.
The reality is that if we get the infrastructure plan we need, it will be passed through the House and Senate versions of the compromise process, with little to no Republican support. And the sooner it gets to this point, the better.
Translation of Paulo Migliacci
LINK PRESENT: Did you like this column? The subscriber can release five free hits from any link per day. Just click on the blue F below.