Biden and the Jobs Revolution

The fledgling Biden revolution is trying to prove America is capable of reversing decades of self-neglect by creating the biggest peacetime jobs program since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Led by a determined, ambitious, surprisingly energetic President Joe Biden backed up by a team of progressive Democrats, the United States finally is turning nation-building toward home after years of throwing American lives and treasure at fruitless, seemingly endless wars.

Biden now proposes to spend $2.2 trillion on rebuilding 20,000 miles of the nation’s roads, repairing bridges, expanding high-speed broadband to rural areas, fixing other infrastructure like pipes and creating millions of jobs to get it all done. The idea is to finish it in eight years and pay for it over 15 years by raising corporate taxes from 21 percent to 28 percent.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said in introducing an effort that surpasses in its extent President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program of the 1960s. “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

Nevertheless, he said Wednesday, trying to appease Republicans, he’s willing to bend on taxes. “Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain.” But: “We will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction is simply not an option.”

The Treasury Department proposed in a report Wednesday to bring in about $2.5 trillion over 15 years by raising taxes on corporations, including on earnings made abroad, The Washington Post said. Congress would have to approve the change. Republicans and some Democrats already have objected, it said.

Congress so far has enacted legislation costing $7.2 trillion to combat the pandemic and its major impact on the economy, according to a March 15 report by the nonpartisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation that focuses on economics. It includes Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus relief package adopted March 11.

To put the enacted and proposed domestic spending in perspective, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan cost the United States $6.4 trillion between 2001 and 2019, according to a 2019 report by the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

Just as the Great Depression, which hit 25 percent unemployment, pushed Roosevelt to act far beyond spending boundaries in the 1930s, so the pandemic and its exposure of economic hardship among Americans has pressed Biden to reach for financial excess to prove America can unleash its copious resources to help its people.

That’s if obstructionist Republicans let him. They never saw a Democratic initiative they liked.

FDR didn‘t break the bank to fight the Depression and pay for World War II that followed it. And Biden won’t bankrupt us, despite vociferous Republican opposition to his American Jobs Plan – for jobs is what it is about — by bringing us into the 21st century as the America we should be, not an America that caters to the well-to-do and the wealthy.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell lashed out at the proposed tax increases as a “big mistake” in remarks in his native Kentucky. He said Congress couldn’t “whack the economy with major tax increases or run up the national debt even more.”

Of course, there were no Republican complaints when Biden’s predecessor smacked the national debt with a $1.5 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that proved useless for the paycheck-to-paycheck class.

“I think that package they’re putting together now,” McConnell said, “as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side.”

Biden again may have to resort to a Senate process known as reconciliation, which bypasses a filibuster, in order to get his enormous through Congress. The Senate parliamentarian gave him the thumbs up to go for it because the legislation qualifies as a budget item.

The Republicans, who have made a career of trying to kill or block Democratic programs, have tacked to a different wind in a bid to cut the size of the bill: define what is infrastructure. They’d like to limit it.

“Even when you stretch the definition of infrastructure some, it’s about 30 percent of the $2.25 trillion they’re talking about spending,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “When people think about infrastructure, they’re thinking about roads, bridges, ports and airports.”

Not all people, particularly those who live in the 21st, not the 20th century, to where Republicans would like to return us. Broadband today, for example, is considered infrastructure. The yearlong closure of schools forced kids to rely on the internet for remote classroom learning; millions of children had no means of getting online, especially in rural areas.

Fully 85 percent of voters, including 82 percent of Republicans, agree that “America is in need of infrastructure improvement,” said a Morning Consult poll, the Post reported.

“The Depression laid bare the vulnerability of middle-class people and urban professionals who thought they were immune,” historian Eric Rauchway, author of the new book, “Why the New Deal Matters,” told Post columnist Greg Sargent in an interview.

“What the pandemic showed was how deeply unjust and nonfunctional many parts of our society are, in a way a lot of us had been oblivious to,” he said. “With the schools closed, it suddenly became apparent how many children rely on schools for food. There are lots of ways the pandemic revealed how we’ve allowed our civic bonds to decay.”

Biden’s resolve to do things differently in this country for the first time in more than a generation is not the New Deal. But it is a Big Deal.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.