No, your pork project is not infrastructure
BY JUSTIN OWEN
Last month, a 911 operator in Memphis, Tennessee, received a frantic call from an engineer pleading with her to have the Hernando de Soto Bridge immediately shut down. The bridge, spanning the vast Mississippi River, connects Arkansas and my home state of Tennessee via Interstate 40 and is one of the most utilized arteries along the river. During a routine inspection, transportation officials found that one of the bridge’s main structural beams had cracked completely in half.
Repairs on the bridge remain ongoing and could last months. This isn’t just a headache for a few redirected road trippers. More than 50,000 cars normally traverse the bridge daily. And forcing traffic to reroute is costing the trucking industry alone an estimated $2.4 million every single day.
Help is apparently on the way. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently made a trip to Memphis to tout President Biden’s infrastructure plan as a solution to the problem. But the cracks exposed in Biden’s plan are far bigger than the one found in the bridge’s beam.
The plan, while billed as an infrastructure plan, includes funding of childcare and eldercare, as well as paid leave for workers. It’s one thing to have a discussion about whether to fund these types of programs, but it’s another entirely to label them as infrastructure. Yet, in an effort to justify this extraneous spending, the plan’s proponents have twisted themselves into a pretzel claiming that these things are indeed “infrastructure.” Twitter abounds with the hashtag #childcareisinfrastructure.
No matter what these politicians claim on Twitter or elsewhere, of course, none of these items is actual infrastructure. Calling them such—and setting aside funding for them in a transportation package—will lead to less funding for, well, cracks in real bridges like the Hernando de Soto Bridge or any of the other 600,000 bridges in America.
This is typical Washington. After all, calling something by another name in order to lump a bunch of pet projects into an entirely unrelated bill is D.C.’s favorite pastime. Only this time, it’s not so quaint. It takes away meaningful debate and funding from the pressing matters of true infrastructure upgrades.
The driving force behind attempts to label childcare and paid leave policies as infrastructure is an acknowledgment that the role of government in these functions is up for debate. And as such, support for more government intervention in dealing with them is lacking, particularly in an evenly divided Senate. Thus, proponents of President Biden’s plan want to hijack our nation’s infrastructure needs by redefining the term to redirect precious resources from what the government is directly and clearly responsible for—public transportation—to programs where government responsibility is much murkier or even non-existent. They are telling Americans, “If you want to cross safe bridges, you must first pay for my ideological preferences.” This extortion should be wholly unacceptable to us all.
Democrats in D.C., from the president on down, owe a dose of truthfulness to their constituents. They should stop being intellectually dishonest about the shell game they are playing with infrastructure spending. Except, to Americans, this is no game; there are real-life consequences. It’s now up to the Senate to do what is right and eliminate anything from the plan that is not truly devoted to improving public infrastructure. We got lucky with the Hernando de Soto Bridge. Let’s just hope one doesn’t actually fall before this charade ends.