President Joe Biden unveiled a $2.2 trillion infrastructure omnibus package titled the American Jobs Act, which he described as a “once in a generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system, and the space race decades ago.”
“In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War II,” he added during the March 31 speech in Pittsburgh.
Senate Republicans have slammed the plan, however, with Politico reporting that “the Senate Republican Conference [was] sending around a memo to all GOP comms staff, jabbing at the White House for calling its infrastructure bill a ‘jobs plan.’”
“What they’re calling it instead?” Politico added. “‘A partisan plan to kill jobs and create slush funds on the taxpayer dime.’ The memo includes dozens of headlines about tax increases and the price tag.”
In recent weeks, multiple Democrats have argued for the definition of “infrastructure” to be broadened, reacting to criticism from conservative figures such as Russell Vought — the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Donald Trump — who said, “Only about 5% to 7% of it is roads and bridges and ports and things that you I would say is real infrastructure.”
According to The Washington Post, only $115 billion (approximately 5% of the total amount) has been marked for highways, bridges, and roads. Conversely, $174 billion has been marked for “electric vehicles,” $400 billion for the “caretaking economy,” and $213 billion for “affordable and sustainable housing.”
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg attempted to apply a racial justification, claiming that racism is “physically built” into parts of the U.S. highway system.
The latest example of retrospective justification of the apparent inclusion of non-infrastructure items in an infrastructure plan was provided by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
“Infrastructure is about education, about getting children healthily in school with separation, sanitation, ventilation. It’s about investments in housing as well,” Pelosi said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Overwhelmingly, this bill is about infrastructure in the traditional sense of the word.”
“We also think that infrastructure— there’s a need for workforce development in order to have the workforce fully participate in how we go forward and childcare so that women can be involved in that as well,” she added. “So it’s physical infrastructure. It’s also human infrastructure that is involved.”
Sanders also attempted to broaden the definition of infrastructure, referencing “human infrastructure.”
“We’ve got to take a broad look at what infrastructure means, human infrastructure for ordinary people,” Sanders told MSNBC.
We need to broaden our definition of infrastructure. It is, of course, bricks and mortar. But it is also human infrastructure. Now is the time to create millions of jobs addressing the needs of the working class. It is good policy and good politics. pic.twitter.com/eNaAshZT2l
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) April 10, 2021
“Human infrastructure means housing. You’ve got a half a million people in this country who are homeless. You’ve got 19 million households who are spending 50% of their limited incomes on housing. We need to build housing,” Sanders continued. “And by the way, when you deal with housing, you create jobs.”
“When I talk about infrastructure, it means if a worker, a mom and dad are going to work, they have the right to know that their kids are in decent childcare. That’s infrastructure,” Sanders said. “Infrastructure is having the best-educated workforce in the world. That means all of our kids should have the ability to get a higher education, not leave school deeply in debt.”
Sanders continued to argue that infrastructure “means that we need a healthy society. Our life expectancy is 40th in the world because we are the only major country not to guarantee health care to all people,” Sanders added. “And so, I think as a nation we’ve got to take a very broad look at what we mean by infrastructure, it’s physical infrastructure, obviously, bricks and mortar. It is human infrastructure.”