By getting the Senate to pass a massive infrastructure bill with Republican support, the American president is mobilizing sums of money unseen in decades to fight systemic inequality.
No doubt, when it comes to “fixing” Washington, a former senator who is well-versed in the arcane aspects of politics and who became president late in life is better suited to the job than a populist loudmouth. The fact remains that Joe Biden succeeded where his predecessor, Donald Trump, failed. He got the Senate to pass, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, a massive infrastructure bill with Republican support. Relishing his victory, the Democratic president joked about those who had said that the negotiations would fail. Biden held on and ended up getting a bill both parties could agree on.
It is a win-win situation. The president, whose goal is to bring America together, calmed political tensions at least somewhat. Republicans managed to free themselves from Trump. The Senate, as an institution, showed that it is not fundamentally paralyzed. This is good news for American democracy.
The bill is less ambitious than the one the president proposed last spring. Roughly $1 trillion, it reappropriates other funds and foresees $550 billion in new spending. It is focused on physical infrastructure and does not use new taxes to pay for it. Biden had to give up on including a hike in corporate taxes in this bill. That was what it took to get Republican support. It will repair roads, bridges, railroads and power grids. It should increase access to high-speed internet and protect the poorest Americans from weather-related risks.
The president has compared this plan to the building of the continental railroad and to the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. It is in any case welcome, since the United States suffers from weak infrastructure. Someone still needs to make sure that the funds are used as intended, which is not always easy. The long delay in dispersing rent relief to Americans on the brink of eviction shows that.
Tactically, the bill is good for Biden, who was elected in 2020, thanks to moderate voters in the suburbs who want their elected officials to find common ground. The midterm elections are already on the horizon.
With the ink on the Senate bill barely dry, the Democrats are buckling down on a new bill — a $3.5 trillion “human” infrastructure bill. The bill, which seeks, namely, to support families, their health insurance and preschool, is part of a larger move to fight poverty. It is unlike anything since Lyndon Johnson’s agenda in the 1960s.
Except that, here, Washington is getting back to old habits. The Democrats put the bill on the agenda themselves, with 50 Democrats in favor and 49 Republicans opposed, the same way they passed Joe Biden’s first economic relief package in March. Republicans, it is true, remain fiercely opposed, but Biden believes his agenda has popular support.
Imperceptibly, relying skillfully on Republicans or his own party, Biden is spending amounts of money not seen in decades to transform the United States and fight systemic inequality. His job now is to make sure the implementation of his plans is successful. But, already, the American president has revived the idea that a large democratic country can make massive investments in its people.