It’s almost like they’re trying to confuse us. Well, not almost — they are.
There are two bills that have been banging around in Washington and the Democrats desperately want people to think that they are the same thing. They are not. One is about upgrading our nation’s physical infrastructure and the other is about new and expanded social programs.
I like the first one, and I dislike the other. Nineteen Republican senators voted for the one I like; not one Republican will vote for the other. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is truly bipartisan; it was signed into law last week. It adds $550 billion to the baseline of existing 10-year infrastructure spending of $650 billion. It’s for roads, bridges, transit, rail, airports, water and power projects, wildfire mitigation and broadband expansion. All true physical infrastructure.
The social bill is euphemistically called “Build Back Better.” In my opinion, it’s anything but.
This bill is not yet fully baked; it will continue to pingpong between the Democrats in the House and in the Senate. The House version that was passed last week calls for $1.7 trillion in new spending. It increases taxes, the national debt and audits by the IRS. It expands Medicare, includes parts of the Green New Deal and has the federal government provide universal pre-k.
Stunningly, it increases benefits to illegal immigrants and gives huge tax breaks to millionaires, particularly in states like New York and California. Senate Democrats will surely construct a version to their own liking. I’d much prefer it if they just shut it down.
In contrast, the infrastructure law I helped negotiate has numerous wins for the Beehive State.
As the fastest growing state in the nation, we will need new highways and new transit lines. There is funding to repair our roads, overpasses and bridges. Population growth, as well as our recent drought, will require new water projects. Our warmer climate and dry forests demand new strategies and investments to mitigate wildfire. Utahns living in rural and underserved areas will gain access to high-speed internet. Navajos in southern Utah — who currently are without running water — will finally obtain what most of us consider a necessity.
Why didn’t every Republican vote for the infrastructure bill? Some felt that it would make it easier for the Democrats to pass their “Build Back Better” bill. I think just the opposite: it has delayed and complicated that bill.
Some note that traditional scoring by the Congressional Budget Office says the bipartisan infrastructure bill will add to the debt. I believe accounting for all sources of funding shows that it will not.
Some don’t want to give President Joe Biden a “win,” particularly when President Donald Trump could not get an infrastructure bill of his own across the finish line. I believe a win for Utah and the country is more important than who gets the credit.
All of these considerations are subject to judgment, of course; I respect my Republican colleagues who reached a different conclusion than I did. But I stand by my decision: this infrastructure law will be very good for Utah and the rest of the country.
Making our highways, rail, air and transit systems more efficient means that products can get to the consumer faster and with fewer delays, increasing the supply of goods and services and thus, in the long term, reducing inflationary pressure. It will also improve the competitiveness of our productive capacity; our infrastructure has fallen woefully behind nations like South Korea and China.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, now law, shows the American people that it is possible to break the logjam and make responsible investments without raising taxes or adding to the national debt. Utah is facing tremendous growth, and with the additional funding provided by the bipartisan infrastructure bill our state will be better equipped to plan for our future needs.
Opinion published in the Deseret News.