My thoughts on Biden's bold plan for infrastructure

April 2, 2021
Enewsletter

I have spent my entire public career focused on how to rebuild and renew America. Some would say “obsessed.” When first coming to Congress, I fought to be on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I embraced that assignment, working on transit, rail, and water, among other issues.

After 10 years, I left the committee I loved for an opportunity to serve on the Ways and Means Committee to be able to finance that critical effort. I also founded a national organization, Rail~Volution, which was more than a conference, it was a critical approach to how communities could harness the forces of change to solve problems rather than create new ones by proactively addressing equity, economic development, the climate, and quality of life.

I’ve been able to work with communities from coast to coast on their efforts to plan, finance, and implement community renewal. Finally, I've championed a more robust and aggressive role for the federal government to be a better partner with communities in this challenge of rebuilding and renewing America. 

I've watched with dismay as a series of Republican administrations scaled down their participation and their expectations for the greatness of American infrastructure. I've seen Democratic administrations scale back for either political or philosophical reasons. The failure to embrace this challenge to rebuild and renew America is a bipartisan failure, although it’s reached new heights with Republicans. 

Words cannot describe my joy, my excitement with the Biden infrastructure announcement. I have waited my entire congressional career for an opportunity to participate in the vision that America desperately needs to remedy: the underinvestment, the risks to climate, public safety, health, and the missed economic opportunities. 

Not only will the bold Biden infrastructure plan create millions of family-wage jobs in every community across America, but it will also improve the quality of life. I've seen the deficiencies firsthand, from the horrific conditions in Flint, Michigan to the dangerous water and sewage conditions in the rural south. But these problems are in every state. 

I’ve long advocated for a more responsive federal partner for mass transit, where underinvestment particularly hurts low-income communities who cannot afford to own a vehicle. For drivers, there are countless hours wasted in traffic, unnecessary pollution, and most critically a lack of safety. 

Our current infrastructure is a trap. Road deaths continue to be unacceptably high, particularly in underserved communities and for children, older adults, pedestrians, and cyclists. The litany of problems and opportunities is inexhaustible. For example, there are tens of thousands of dams, some of which have uncertain ownership which are dangerously outmoded and at risk of failure. 

The challenges of broadband as a result of the pandemic have been made clearer than ever: broadband is fundamental infrastructure.  

Indeed, we're finding broadband is essential for education as millions of families are contending with remote learning. It’s also essential for businesses not just to thrive but in some cases even to operate. And broadband is now an essential healthcare tool as telehealth has gained even greater importance as we navigate the pandemic and try and keep patients safe, with rural medical facilities more stressed than ever. 

Likewise, hiking and biking trails have proven to be essential infrastructure. We’ve seen people desperate for recreation, flooding our open spaces and crowding our pedestrian and roadways.

The tragic circumstance in Texas during the great winter storm and record cold temperatures revealed how fragile the electric grid was. Particularly in a state like Texas, which has been dominated by short-sighted, uncoordinated, “every person for themselves” ethos. Everyone was provided an incentive to make money, to cut costs, and to not deal with the broader picture.

Despite what former Energy Secretary Rick Perry stated, it's not clear that Texans were content to freeze in their homes, have water and storm damage, or even lose their lives just to go it alone without the federal government and other public and private partners. 

Trillions of dollars in the Biden plan are an important down payment, which will unlock benefits all across society across our economy, for education, health care, business and fundamental human interaction.

The Biden plan is exactly what America needs at this moment. It will help us make up for lost time on the failure of rebuilding and renewing our crumbling infrastructure while meaningfully addressing the climate crisis. 

It will address long-standing inequities at a time when Americans, especially people of color, are crying out for justice. The Biden plan invests real money and provides long-overdue investments in communities that have suffered from inaccessible and unreliable infrastructure for generations. Perhaps most timely, the plan will create millions of good paying jobs that will support families and their future. 

Finally, the Biden plan is about much more than physical infrastructure, the climate crisis, health, and safety. This bold investment in America and its future is designed to lift the spirits and the opportunity of families, especially with the unprecedented challenges they face today. America is caught in a race against time with the climate crisis, with crumbling infrastructure, and with deteriorating conditions for too many American families. 

At a time of unprecedented prosperity for some, too many are facing a declining quality of life, even the expected length of life itself. The threats and unfairness are visible now for all to see.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has documented the terrible condition of American infrastructure and that it will inflict even higher costs if it is neglected. The lack of reliability, the response to blackouts, system failures, unsafe conditions, accidents, in some cases disease, are such an extraordinarily high price that we are already paying for it through failure.

The bold Biden plan contains the seeds of the economic recovery. The millions of family-wage jobs, the costs that will be saved, the improvement of the quality of life for our families, and for business will more than pay for itself.  This is an opportunity to strategically invest in the enhancement of our economy and of our communities. 

The Biden plan also calls for long overdue adjustments to our tax system, closing loopholes that add complexity and unfairness while costing needed tax revenue. It would repeal some of the most unjustified and costly elements of the 2017 GOP tax law that slashed the corporate rate far beyond what the business community was willing to accept and needed to restore economic competitiveness internationally.

Most egregious has been the failure to actually enforce the flawed tax code. Some $600 billion will be lost this year because of cheating and cutting corners by large, profitable corporations and wealthy people. Those who take unfair advantage by not paying their fair share are actually providing a competitive disadvantage for those who pay by the rules, honor the spirit and letter of the tax law, and pay what they owe. If we simply enforce the tax laws, it will fund some of what we need over the course of the next decade. A long overdue adjustment for fairness and equity, and of course, adequately financing what America needs. 

I could not be more excited about these developments, eager to continue our work spreading the gospel of renewing and renewing America, making all our families safer, healthier, and more economically secure.