U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg says the Biden administration will work hard to earn the support of Republican leaders for its US$4-billion American Jobs Plan but President Joe Biden has made it clear that spending paralysis is not an option.
“We need to do something real, we need to do something big and we need to do something that we will remember looking back on the early 2020s a generation or two from now,” Buttigieg said during an online forum presented May 4 by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers and Punchbowl News.
He called the plan “a defining decision for generations to come.”
Biden’s $2.3-billion infrastructure package, part of the Jobs Plan, would include traditional infrastructure such as roads and bridges and non-traditional infrastructure such as broadband plus what Biden calls “human infrastructure,” which includes safety net programs, home care, research and development, and skills training.
At this point, the administration and Republican leaders are still attempting to come up with a definition of infrastructure. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, told reporters before a bipartisan meeting with the president in the White House May 12 that infrastructure is “not home health. That’s roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband.”
Another major issue is how the spending would be paid for. Buttigieg said the administration’s proposed corporate tax hike from 21 per cent to 28 per cent represented a return to typical corporate rates of the 1990s when there was good job growth and the rate was 35 per cent, and would largely support the Jobs Plan without resorting to touted Republican sources such as higher user fees.
“We don’t have to go there,” said Buttigieg. “The president has said he doesn’t want to raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year and we don’t even have to look at it to find it easily paid for.”
“We don’t have a lot of work to do to convince the American people that this is a good plan,” he said.
“And importantly, why this isn’t just about this quarter or this year economically but really creating the kind of economic strength that we’re going to need generationally for this country to be thriving into the future.”
The Republicans have steadfastly rejected Biden’s proposed corporate tax increase. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said not long ago he was “100-per-cent focused” on stopping Biden’s agenda.
“Even something that is wildly popular among Democrats and Republicans in every part of the country can’t necessarily count on the same level of support on Capitol Hill, and that’s why we’re closely engaging, by the way not just sharing but listening, as we speak to members of both chambers, and both parties,” Buttigieg said.
Republicans have suggested $600 million is their baseline for a traditional infrastructure plan but Buttigieg said the Biden administration would explore whether that was a base on top of which its package could be built.
“These are the kinds of things we’re really trying to clarify and get into the weeds with,” he said.
But the timetable is tight, Buttigieg said. A surface transportation bill is up for renewal, he noted, and progress has to be made this summer if it’s going to be reauthorized.
“I think May in particular is a month where you’re going to see a lot of action, the president’s often said that we need to have major progress, major action, by Memorial Day and that with May having suddenly become the month we’re in he is calling for us to be very productive in the next days and weeks.”
What’s at stake, Buttigieg said, is enabling Americans to keep up with the rest of the world — modest steps are not acceptable.
“You look at the possibilities around things like transit,” he said. “You look at what it would mean to just give Americans the same quality of passenger rail infrastructure that citizens in other countries from China and Japan to Turkey or Spain could count on as a matter of course. That’s not going to happen by tinkering around the edges.”
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