OP-ED: The comprehensive challenge to America
Joe Biden wants to help us all, although he hasn’t figured out how to do it yet. Of course, it’s early in his presidency and maybe he will learn if he refuses phone calls from Sen. Bernie Sanders. But, in a unifying, civil way, this Neanderthal columnist would like to say that President Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan has some good details. The devil is in the comprehensiveness.
After all, this bill is not just about rebuilding 20,000 miles of roads, modernizing bridges and updating the electric grid, for instance. It’s also about racial equity with programs that especially serve minority groups. Then there’s climate change. Biden wants to reduce fossil fuel jobs and compel auto dealers to get going on electric cars. He also figures on building 10,000 electric-charge stations. As the war on reliable energy proceeds with no additional drilling on federal lands allowed, he sees help in fossil fuel workers getting lesser paying jobs in making unreliable solar panels and windmills.
However, yes, we do need to sweat about hotter times even though the $2 trillion to pay for all of this comes on top of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill creating a full-fledged welfare state. That came on top of $4 trillion in previous COVID-19 bills, and Larry Summers had something interesting to say about the latest virus bill before passage.
This former Harvard president and finance honcho in the Clinton and Obama administrations, noted that a family of four making $1,000 a week would bring home $22,000 in the first six months after taxes. But if the income goes kaput through a layoff, the Biden welfare state would provide $30,000 in the next six months through tax credits and unemployment insurance. The point is that productive, economy-enhancing workers could be lost, and Summers was among those saying the supposed rescue would not be that stimulating and could be disastrously “inflationary,” a word leftists seldom use anymore.
Summers does not, however, see the infrastructure bill as inflationary because he thinks it will create jobs and wealth. In maybe 15 years, it’s said, the wealth could pay off the government “infrastructure” funding generated by a 28% corporate tax that could lessen investment and wages. How about eliminating pointless programs? Even with the economic boost, the debt issue will not disappear overnight, and the economy was pretty much getting well before all of this started. The cost on debt interest is $800 million a day, and unaffordable welfare state costs will persist for years.
My own thought is that comprehensive change is hardly ever the way to go, although “comprehensive” has become a favorite word in Congress, pretty much making you a statesman if you say it enough. First off, it more or less hides some of the bill and it is impossible to know with certainty what most bills will achieve, least of all biggies with a gazillion parts. “Unintended consequences” is a phrase built on facts, and it is nothing less than impossible to debate a comprehensive bill with numerous items that in and of themselves need debate.
Yes, there can be times when Congress has to move quickly on a variety of fronts, although even then as selectively as possible. The intelligent, most responsible thing to do most of the time is to move ahead incrementally, one step at a time, giving each political party some chance to block the extremes of the other party.
The infrastructure issue should have come first, with climate change projects coming after more research. A COVID-19 bill on health measures should have been done alone. Congress should have taken on tax credits one tax credit at a time. The 628-page COVID-19 bill was likely read in full by few members of Congress, who mostly master summaries and talking points. Washington comprehensiveness is a crowd described as if it is one person.
— Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service.