So Republicans have to find a way to convince voters it’s a terrible idea, which they’ll attempt through a series of misleading arguments.
Here’s the latest on the package, from The Post:
Biden’s plan will include approximately $650 billion to rebuild the United States’ infrastructure, such as its roads, bridges, highways and ports, the people said. The plan will also include in the range of $400 billion toward care for the elderly and the disabled, $300 billion for housing infrastructure and $300 billion to revive U.S. manufacturing. It will also include hundreds of billions of dollars to bolster the nation’s electric grid, enact nationwide high-speed broadband and revamp the nation’s water systems to ensure clean drinking water, among other major investments, the people said.
Those all seem like worthy goals. So how will Republicans argue against them?
One way will revolve around fearmongering about deficits and tax hikes. Another will seek to cherry-pick from the package to portray it as stuffed with wasteful boondoggles.
On the first, Biden is expected to ask congressional Democrats to roll back parts of his predecessor’s tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and to increase taxes on profits that corporations shelter offshore.
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is already balking.
“If you want to do an infrastructure bill, let’s do an infrastructure bill,” is McConnell’s latest line. “Let’s don’t turn it into a massive effort to raise taxes on businesses and individuals.”
McConnell added that higher taxes will “send our economy in the wrong direction.”
Democrats have a good way to call the GOP bluff: Renew the push for a boost in funding for the Internal Revenue Service, so it can start hauling in the huge piles of revenue that will likely to go uncollected in coming years — much from the wealthy and corporations.
The GOP game runs as follows. Republicans say they support infrastructure repair in principle (which is true of some). But, they add, they don’t support paying for it either by driving up the deficit or with tax hikes that will kill jobs (as McConnell suggested).
Never mind that Republicans exploded the deficit with the very tax cuts for the rich and corporations that Democrats want to partly reverse, or that Republicans are pretending doing this would raise taxes on workers, or that the claim that tax hikes kill jobs has been perpetually proven wrong.
Beyond all that, Democrats should challenge Republicans to support beefed up IRS enforcement.
Tax experts say that due to IRS budget cuts and resulting lax enforcement, as much as $7.5 trillion in revenue could go uncollected over the next decade, a good deal of it from wealthy actors who are well resourced to evade payments. They also say netting even a fraction of that could bring in gobs of new revenue.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Finance Committee, says Democrats should renew this push, tied to the debate over infrastructure, by arguing for more funding for IRS enforcement, and for reforms improving its efficacy.
“Republicans say infrastructure investments need to be paid for, but they aren’t supporting pay-fors,” Wyden tells us in an emailed statement. “The absolute bare minimum Republicans should get behind is ensuring the IRS has resources and trained staff to collect taxes that are currently owed.”
“They won’t have any credibility if their position is that not only can there be no new revenue, but we also can’t do significantly more to collect revenue that’s owed,” Wyden continued.
Meanwhile, you will surely hear the name “Solyndra” bandied about, in reference to what happened the last time a Democratic administration boosted green energy infrastructure (an even bigger component of Biden’s plan).
Republicans are already making the case that last time millions in taxpayer dollars were squandered on green energy jobs that never materialized. They are road-testing a new slogan about what’s coming: “Solyndra Syndrome.”
But that actually points to how Democrats should respond to this attack. Because the truth is very different from what Republicans would have you believe.
Solyndra was indeed a failure: As part of a federal program to support promising companies, the Obama administration gave a $535 million loan to the firm. But their solar panel technology struggled to compete against low-cost panels from China, and the company eventually went bankrupt.
But the whole point of the loan program was to take risks, in the knowledge that some of them wouldn’t work out. And other loans paid off spectacularly well.
You may have heard of another up-and-coming green tech company that got a $465 million loan at around the same time, enabling it to start making passenger cars. It’s called Tesla. It paid back its loan with interest, and today has more than 70,000 employees.
So that part of the Obama Recovery Act was a success, even though Republicans convinced many people it was a failure.
This is the heart of the story Republicans want to tell: Government can’t do anything right, and when it tries to boost the economy over the long haul it will waste taxpayers’ money without anything to show for it.
The reality tells the opposite story, and Democrats should say so. Indeed, beefing up IRS enforcement can help here: With the public shifting in favor of ambitious government action amid major crises, going after the ways elites game the tax system could help build faith in government’s ability to spend taxpayer money fairly and effectively to tackle large public problems.
While the proof will ultimately be in whether Democrats deliver, they should be confident that the story they can tell will shape up to be the better and truer one.