The Hill – reports that President Biden traveled to New Jersey on Monday to highlight how his domestic policy agenda would benefit the region as Democrats race to reach a deal on a sweeping social spending and climate package.
Biden pointed to the Portal Bridge project in New Jersey as an example of why the funding in the stalled Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill is badly needed. See a bit more background and President Biden in action, promoting this new infrastructure bill.
Biden states that “With my infrastructure bill, we’re going to make sure projects like this are just the beginning,” Biden said, adding that there are 45,000 bridges in disrepair and 173,000 miles of roads in poor condition across the United States.
At one point, Biden also seemed to suggest the price tag could be around $1.75 trillion. “You hear these numbers, $3.5 trillion and $1.75 trillion – we pay for it all,” Biden said. “It doesn’t increase the deficit one single cent.”
The Senate passed a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill in early August after months of negotiations. In total, the deal includes $550 billion in new federal investments in America’s infrastructure over five years. One can read the bill here.
The package would add $256 billion to the deficit over the next ten years, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report. The House must approve the bill before it can head to President Biden’s desk. But House progressives don’t want to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure legislation before voting to pass a separate $3.5 trillion spending bill that would remake a lot of the country’s social safety net system and likely raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
Aside from the charges of all the pork and “wokey woke” stuff in the infrastructure bill, one of the first things people say in support of infrastructure is – “roads and bridges.” We all like to have good roads and bridges – it’s something we all use, who could be against it? However, the deal calls for only $110 billion for roads, bridges, and major infrastructure projects – less than 10% of the total bill. A bait and switch on the American taxpayer?
As Biden’s infrastructure bill becomes closer to reality – a question we need to ask is just how bad are the roads and bridges in the United States? According to the White House, some 20%, or 173,000 miles, of the nation’s highways and major roads are in poor condition, as are 45,000 bridges. But let’s take a closer look at roads and bridges in the United States.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) new Global Competitiveness Report allows us to compare the countries with the best quality of roads and the best road connectivity. Road Connectivity Index indicates how easy it is to get from points A to B and how fast you can reach your destination.
According to this report, the United States tops the Road Connectivity Index – see the inset chart to the left (see more here). Considering that the United States has a much lower geographic population density, this score is quite remarkable.
In Road Connectivity, the United States beats all the European countries and even many smaller countries where connectivity would be much easier to achieve. Ahhh … but what about those potholes?
Again checking back with the WEF in a report here, in 2019, the United States was 17th in the world at 5.5 on their index scale. The average for 2019 based on 141 countries was 4.07 points. The highest value was in Singapore: 6.5 points and the lowest value was in Chad: 1.9 points. The countries that beat the United States, though had poorer Road Connectivity, are fairly small-sized countries with higher geographic population density.
The point here is that the roads and bridges are not that bad in the United States when compared to other countries globally. One can understand that one may not want to merely compare one’s position with others – one can excel further regardless. But why the panic to do an infrastructure bill, using roads and bridges as an excuse?
A few things that we need to be reminded of when big spending bills are considered.
- Federal take over of states – federal funding can dampen state and local funding. Though voters overwhelmingly support increased infrastructure spending, their strong preference is that someone else pays for it. But the bait takes away any local control. Are real local needs being addressed?
- A Lobbyists’ goldmine – federal funds come with a shockingly exhaustive list of requirements. While all of these requirements represent noble policy goals, they add time and expense to any project. All to be managed by expensive consultants from special think tanks and lobbyist firms. Is it no wonder all the experts scare us into needing an infrastructure bill?
- Payback to political supporters – the fundamental policy question regarding infrastructure funding is not “who should pay?” but “to whom should they pay?” It’s all fiat currency anyway. When the contracts get handed out, watch who will get them.
Perhaps the United States could consider additional funds for infrastructure. For sure there are some issues to be addressed – but nowhere near to any of the price tags being discussed. Simply put, the American voter is being fooled once again by our politicians trying to buy votes, benefit their supporters, and, more importantly, pay off their donors.
Who are the losers? The poor and those on a fixed income – the old.