This editorial first appeared in The Washington Post. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
Talks on a possible infrastructure compromise between President Joe Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., collapsed definitively last week, but fortunately there is more than one way to achieve a bipartisan deal. If there can’t be one between the White House and Senate Republicans, perhaps something acceptable to the president can be worked out among senators themselves, working across the aisle. That, at least, is the hope raised by the announcement on Thursday that a 10-member Senate group, split evenly among Republicans and Democrats, has agreed on a proposal.
Details are sketchy, and what is known of the deal suggests it is far from ideal. Some Republicans are likely to object to anything that spends a lot of money and hands even a partial political victory to Biden; on the Democratic left, meanwhile, critics are already saying their party should stop wasting time and pass a bill using a party-line procedure known as reconciliation. Biden, however, campaigned not only on investing in productivity-enhancing public goods but also on restoring functionality to Washington. He should therefore engage with the Senate group in good faith.
Their plan includes about $974 billion in infrastructure spending over five years. Of that amount, however, $579 billion would be new spending above what has already been authorized. Biden has said he won’t settle for less than $1 trillion in new money, but the Senate group’s plan is at least within shouting distance of that number — and reportedly also adds clean energy spending, a Biden priority that Capito rejected.
The real problem is how to pay for the plan. The Senate group, in deference to GOP ideology, claims to do it without raising taxes. The president, whose original $2.2 trillion relied on raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, should insist on some revenue from higher corporate taxation, perhaps in the form of the 15% minimum corporate tax rate he floated in discussions with Capito.
In fairness to the Republican members of the group, they are open to inflation-adjusting the federal fuel excise tax — a tax increase in all but name, and a truly modest one given that the tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. Higher fuel taxes are also good policy: They both raise revenue and, at the margins, reduce driving, which means they reduce carbon emissions. Biden is the obstacle here, because he has sworn not to increase taxes for anyone who earns less than $400,000 per year. That promise seems especially ill-advised in the context of transportation infrastructure, where fuel taxes function as a rough user fee for the nation’s highways.
Time is growing short between now and the self-imposed July 4 deadline of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to bring a bill to the floor. The smart money is betting that Republicans and Democratic centrists are just posturing, and that these negotiations will end in the usual partisan impasse. Americans in general would not be surprised if that happens — but undoubtedly wish it wouldn’t. As the one player in this drama who was elected by all the people, Biden’s role is to help prove that this time the smart money is wrong.