Infrastructure

Biden's Infrastructure Plan Isn't About Infrastructure. It's About Paying Off Political Allies.

When everything’s infrastructure, nothing is.

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As it turns out, a huge chunk of President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan doesn't have much to do with infrastructure. 

This is not much of a surprise, given that Biden's pandemic recovery bill had almost nothing to do with the pandemic. But in some ways, it also misses the larger point. Even many of the parts of the bill that are nominally about actual physical infrastructure aren't really about infrastructure. They're about shoveling money in the direction of Democratic political allies—mostly unions. And that explains a lot of the rest of the bill, too. 

Republicans have been circulating a talking point about how only 7 percent of the $2.25 trillion proposal is actually related to infrastructure. This is somewhat ungenerous, as it only counts a narrow category of spending on roads, bridges, waterways, ports, and airports. 

But even a quite generous accounting still suggests that only a little more than half of the bill is targeted at anything that meets the definition of infrastructure, and that includes projects like $111 billion for drinking water and $328 billion for upgrading military health facilities and other federal buildings. As Politico notes, those sorts of projects involve some amount of physical building and construction but have never been previously categorized as infrastructure. 

The plan also includes a lot of spending on stuff that doesn't even remotely count as infrastructure. For example, the proposal includes about $590 billion for vaguely defined job training, research and development, and industrial policy, as well as another $400 billion for expanding and supporting home health care. That's about $1 trillion in non-infrastructure spending in a supposed infrastructure bill. 

Until quite recently, $1 trillion was considered a lot of money, even for the federal government, and both of those funding pools would likely have been separate bills debated on their merits. Instead, Biden and congressional Democrats are attempting to redefine them as infrastructure and pass them on the argument that what America needs right now is more infrastructure spending…including, it seems, on programs that have nothing to do with infrastructure.

This, however, isn't stopping Democrats from demanding, sometimes quite explicitly, that we treat non-infrastructure programs as infrastructure. Here, for example, is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D–N.Y.) tweet from this morning:

Sure, and in my heart, home cocktail bars are also infrastructure. Everything's infrastructure, if you want it to be. You just have to believe. 

One reason the partisan debate is going this way is that, in American political rhetoric, infrastructure is generally coded as good. Democrats obviously like infrastructure, but so do Republicans, and politicians on both sides of the aisle generally want to be seen as being for more infrastructure, because infrastructure is popular. So the attempt by Democrats to recategorize non-infrastructure projects as infrastructure is in some sense an attempt to argue that these programs are good without having to make an extended case for them on the merits.

In some ways, the question of how to describe and categorize the bill's different spending programs (while not unimportant) obscures the actual question, which is whether the bill is worthwhile on the merits. And the answer there is: not really. 

Because even if you just confine your analysis to the parts of the bill that are actually infrastructure, what you find is that it's chock-full of provisions that almost seem intentionally designed to make big infrastructure projects much slower to complete and much more expensive. 

As Reason's Christian Britschgi wrote, the plan includes "Buy American" and prevailing wage provisions that would drive up the already-high costs of infrastructure and funnel a lot of money to the unions that support Biden, and that Biden has repeatedly said he supports. To the extent that American infrastructure has problems, it's partly because of comparatively high construction costs that make projects more difficult to build. Instead of attempting to solve that problem, Biden's infrastructure plan would make it worse. 

That's because, at its heart, it's not really an infrastructure plan. It's a payoff plan for Biden's labor allies. And that helps explain the non-infrastructure parts of the plan too. The $400 billion for home health care would heavily benefit the Service Employees International Union. 

Nor is it an accident that Biden's plan would, as Reason's Eric Boehm recently noted, overturn right-to-work laws, which prevent unions from charging dues to non-members. This, of course, has nothing to do with building better infrastructure. It is, however, a major, longstanding political goal for unions. Maybe union dues from non-union members are infrastructure? 

It's all infrastructure if you want it to be. And, by the same token, none of it is infrastructure. To paraphrase a great movie, when everything's infrastructure, nothing is

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  1. “Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Isn’t About Infrastructure. It’s About Paying Off Political Allies.”

    Condensed version: “Politics as Usual.”

    1. This is normal politics, especially when run by an establishment machine politician with delusions of grandeur.

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    2. The sky is blue, rain is wet, and government is out of control.

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    4. Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Isn’t About Infrastructure. It’s About Paying Off Political Allies…………MORE DETAIL.

    5. True. But the sheer amount of the giveaways this time is pretty obscene. Biden is just nakedly shoveling away private wealth into union pockets without even bothering to justify much of the expenses in detail. That’s low, even by political standards.

      1. They (Team Biden) have no fucking standards.

      2. The DNC like the political machines in D cities are at the most basic level criminal enterprises. They steal money from taxpayers, launder it through FedGov and parcel it out to friends and allies. I guess Suderman just figured it out being all aghast about mean tweets and the Trump Show.

  2. Those union votes don’t pay for themselves!

    1. The funny thing is that Biden lost much of the private union votes. And I don’t think they’re coming back.

      1. Can you provide a cite?

        Not disagreeing with you. You’re just bringing up something I hasn’t heard about and I want to learn more.

        1. He lost heavily private union counties in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

        2. Cite on you wanting to learn?

  3. No shit Pete.

  4. Borrow, spend, buy votes to be in power when the debt crashes the economy, claim capitalism failed, create socialist dictatorship.

    1. The Chicago way!

  5. You just have to believe.

    Kind of like the way Reason believed that Biden was the more libertarian choice in the 2020 election, despite every indication to the contrary? It’s not like Biden didn’t literally run on this shit. The feigned surprise isn’t fooling anybody.

    1. Yeah. The Reason staff acting surprised this shit is going on kills me.

      They are more full of it than a Christmas goose.

    2. But… but, Trump’s mean tweets!!

    3. Well he did say its about paying off political allies.

      In this case, given the “libertarians” at Reason exactly what they wanted!

    4. none of these reason ‘journalists’ voted libertarian. its a job to them, just make up shit as they go along.

      Nothing is everything!

  6. He isn’t wearing his magic mask properly.
    Science denier!

  7. Call it whatever you want. At some point I’d hope that people would understand that we can’t have everything, especially all at once. We have to set priorities.

    I suspect my hope will be dashed.

    1. It seems popular to believe that government can in fact spend without limits and never default; the only problem being inflation, for which taxation is a cure [in addition to arriving at an equitable distribution of wealth and resources, and penalizing for undesirable behaviors]

      https://www.hustleescape.com/book-summary-deficit-myth-stephanie-kelton/

      It seems the Biden administration is following this “theory” very closely

  8. GASP

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED! to find that gambling is going on here!

  9. “It’s About Paying Off Political Allies”

    Kind of like ensuring every liberal teachers union member gets a vaccine before my elderly mother who’s demographic doesnt love Biden.

  10. “Shovel ready jobs for all my Union Democrat friends.”

    When Joe served as Obama’s doormat, he did learn Obama’s methods. Did any of you see any of those “shovel ready” jobs come to fruition? Nope. Those jobs were all on military bases, building overpriced infrastructure that is sorely needed around the military installations, not on the military installations.

    1. Obama even came out afterward and said “Turns out those shovel ready jobs weren’t as shovel ready as we though” or something. Then he chuckled, and the media chuckled with him.

      Fun times!

    2. Ted Kennedy was a shovel ready project the last time he ran for re-election.

      1. Good one! Same for Biden.

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  12. The shovel ready jobs went ‘poof’ with the Keystone pipeline. Maybe Joe will bring back Carter’s traffic counting jobs. I bet there’s still a warehouse full of those little clickers.

  13. RACIST!

  14. …and the unions will take these taxpayer dollars and donate them to democrat candidates, which will ensure more taxpayer dollars devoted to unions, which will then be donated to democrat candidates…

  15. Suderman….Now you are making this discovery, that Team Biden is corrupt AF and is paying off their allies? Where the fuck were you last year? You should be ashamed of your coverage of the last two years.

    You picked their side, Suderman. WTF are you complaining about?

    1. Suderman is a moron. He’s proving that. Trump was an unsavory character who got things done. Can’t have that. These a-holes judge their leaders by how they seduce them with smarmy language.

  16. Here, for example, is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D–N.Y.) tweet from this morning:
    Paid leave is infrastructure.
    Child care is infrastructure.
    Caregiving is infrastructure.

    Taking Senate testimony from a woman who is clearly lying in an attempt to derail a USSC nominee is infrastructure.

    1. My toilet is infrastructure. Paid leave is not infrastructure.

    2. Also she was once a member of the house who lied to her constituents that she supported gun rights. That went under the bus when she ran for the Senate. No moral compass and no ethics like all democrats.

    3. I have a cock ring in my dresser drawer with more brains than Kirsten Gillibrand. She ain’t too bad for an old hide, though.

  17. Say it isn’t so, Joe….

  18. Wait. Are you saying that the politicians are lying?

  19. When democrats win, they feed their troops.
    When republicans win, they tend to arrange “friendly fire” incidents.

    1. Agree. Republicans spend their efforts trying to stupidly dodge being called “racists”, instead of using their power to feed their base. Democrats not only don’t care what you call them, they also have almost all popular “news” sources covering for them.

  20. Yeah it is definitely stealing a base to try to call child care “infrastructure”. But it is a discussion worth having, what precisely ought to count as “infrastructure” especially from a libertarian perspective. Even in Libertopia, as I understand it, there would (probably) be some level of publicly funded infrastructure, just a very small one. What should that cutoff be?

    1. Not sure of a general answer, but it would be best if the government were not involved in daycare or running schools, or anything where they can impart values or indoctrinate children.

      I’m not a purist libertarian, though. I’m willing to accept something reasonable even if it is not perfect.

      1. You’re not an anything libertarian, screetch.

    2. It’s not stealing a base, it’s changing the rules and definitions, 1984 style.

      But to answer your question: We could start with durable outdoor built items that facilitate transportation, interstate commerce, and communication by the public that are available to everyone.

      1. Well, to play devil’s advocate:

        We could start with durable outdoor built items that facilitate transportation, interstate commerce, and communication by the public that are available to everyone.

        Why should infrastructure be limited to “durable outdoor built items” alone? Why not consider – at least consider – any idea that “facilitate[s] transportation, interstate commerce, and communication by the public that are available to everyone”, whether it consists of a durable outdoor built item or not?

        1. Ok, well, let’s look at that terminology. I will break it down for you.

          Durable. Something that lasts a reasonably long time. If it’s not around for very long, it’s not infrastructure, because it’s temporary.

          Outdoor. Shouldn’t need much defining, but someone above had mentioned that their toilet was infrastructure. It is not. The potable water and sewer lines servicing their building or town might be, though. A cell tower could be infrastructure. Your personal cell phone is not.

          Built. Once again, shouldn’t need much explaining. Items can be durable and outdoors without being built (constructed). So a bridge might be infrastructure but your bicycle isn’t. It’s at best a durable good. Maybe.

          Items. Items are physical things that exist in the real world. They are not ideas. They are not services. So all the fiber optic cables and phone lines and everything else that is installed ‘out there’ to allow you and I to argue over the internet is potentially infrastructure. The Reason comment section, which also allows us to argue over the internet, is not.

          So, any ‘idea’ whatever you think of how useful it might be, is not infrastructure. That doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it not what it is not. Freedom of speech is not infrastructure. Individual rights are not infrastructure. Child care and medical leave are not infrastructure.

          1. I know what those words mean. I’m asking why the term “infrastructure” should be limited to only “durable outdoor built items”. Not even the dictionary definition of the word infrastructure limits it to solely those items.

            https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/infrastructure

            the system of public works of a country, state, or region
            also : the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity

            I am thinking about infrastructure in line with that second meaning. What is required in order for a particular task to be performed?

            1. So food is now infrastructure? No doubt the dems agree.

            2. You don’t seem to know what the word ‘infrastructure’ means, since you think it can include ideas. I’m sorry for trying to explain why I chose those words more thoroughly when you asked for an explanation.

              I don’t consider ‘people’ to be infrastructure either. That’s a really odd addition to the definition. I couldn’t find another online dictionary that mentioned personnel. Try this one on for size:

              noun
              1. the basic, underlying framework or features of a system or organization.
              2. the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants, and schools.
              3. the military installations of a country.

              https://www.dictionary.com/browse/infrastructure

            3. I know what those words mean. I’m asking why the term “infrastructure” should be limited to only “durable outdoor built items”.

              You know what words mean but seem to not understand what they mean. Youre an idiot. Also a leftist arguing for give aways to private citizens in the form of a welfare state, not a libertarian.

        2. Because you run into the same problem that you do with Commerce Clause jurisprudence. It is easy to tie any idea to interstate commerce. Go ahead and give me any idea and I’ll make a case that it “facilitates interstate commerce.” Of course, I’m sure you’re quite satisfied with Commerce Clause jurisprudence over the last century.

    3. Lol. This is almost as bad as not giving enough welfare is the same as child genital mutilation.

      I remember when you claimed you weren’t for a welfare state. Fucking hilarious.

  21. A trillion here, a trillion there. Before you know it, it adds up to real money.

  22. So the country ISN’T falling apart. With an antiquated rail system, dangerous bridges, and roads, contaminated water and pipes?

    1. No, it’s not. The end.

  23. And don’t forget that the bill would also institute “Card Check”, which would replace secret ballots for votes on unionization with allowing the union side to pressure 51% of the employees into signing a form.

  24. And Matt Gaetz tweeted back “Paying for airfare for a 17 year old is infrastructure.”

  25. No kidding!

  26. “Infrastructure” is a somewhat vague term. Normally it includes roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, airports, ports, dams, canals, sewers, water lines, levees, lighthouses, electrical grids, telephone lines, and public buildings. That’s not a complete list. But it doesn’t include some of the things Biden wants to call “infrastructure.” Many people favor infrastructure improvements without favoring many of the things Biden wants to include in his plan. By redefining “infrastructure,” Biden or one of his staff has created a persuasive definition, which purports to express the common meaning of a term but in fact expresses an uncommon meaning intended to win acceptance for some proposal without having to make a reasonable case for it. That’s an intellectually dishonest form of proof substitute.

  27. Instead of attempting to solve that problem, Biden’s infrastructure plan would make it worse.

    Remarkably only one Reason writer could see this coming. Crap writers = crap mag, crap website.

  28. “Paying off political allies” is simply the most cynical way of putting “doing what the people elected you to do.”

    In a bad mood, libertarians? No major political party even giving lip service to your perpetual austerity plutocratic bullshit?

    1. HAHAHA!

    2. Tony is pro pay for vote.

      Tony. Are you familiar with the scandals of past Mexico presidents and their common ability to raid the national treasury? If not, open a fucking book.

      1. Pretty sure if this article was exactly the same except Biden replaced with Trump (or Bush, or Reagan, or insert generic republican here) Tony would be losing his shit right now. Conversely, if you replaced Biden with Obama (or Clinton, or Carter, or insert generic democrat here) then everything is just fucking dandy.

        1. Yeah well Republicans are fascists who want to destroy America.

          1. I think you meant to type “Yeah well politicians are fascists who want to destroy America, and I don’t care as long as the politician has a D behind their name”.

            1. Who benefits most when you fill your head with silly fallacies like “all Republicans and Democrats are equally evil”? Might it be the one who is actually more evil, what with all the extra credit and indifference you’re offering them?

              1. No fallacy here…both parties suck on the issues that I am passionate about, and both are downright evil on some of the issues. Therefore neither party is benefitting from my votes. Both parties benefit from dipshits like you that think the party they are registered with can do no wrong.

                Furthermore, your initial response says a whole lot. You started with “yeah well” to my response about you not really caring about policy, just D or R. That sounds like an agreement, followed by a not really giving a crap about policy actuals, just that the correct party sponsored it.

      2. Tony is so fucking dense he makes my Mazie Hirono cock ring look like Watson.

  29. I’m really getting tired of the constant re-defining of words and phrases in order to meet desired political outcomes. This mushy and mealy approach to the English language in order to advance desired goals is getting putrid.

  30. Well, Orange Man Bad and Reason got their choice for President.

  31. Never heard this kind of butthurt when Trump was busy cutting taxes for all his rich buddies. Oh that’s right- Koch qualifies so no one here gave a shit when 2 trillion in debt was tacked on so the Kochs could amass even more wealth and stick future generations with the bill.

    1. Maybe because most of us got a tax cut… With the sharpest drop as a percentage for those that make between $25k to $100k. Meanwhile, the current guy will probably raise taxes for a whole lot of people.

  32. What is it with right wingers and their only mode of response being projection? We just got rid of the most corrupt “President” in history who said right out loud that he would punish blue states for saying “mean things” about him and you’re already inventing lies somehow thinking you can gas light everyone into forgetting what a miserable PoS Trump was (and always will be).

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