"It's Big" And "It's Bold": Biden Unveils Massive Infrastructure Plan : The NPR Politics Podcast Both parties agree that the country's infrastructure needs a face lift, and today President Biden revealed a $2 trillion plan to address the problem. The package will address roads, bridges, high speed internet, climate change, and racial inequity, but to pay for it all Congress would need to rollback former President Trump's corporate tax cuts.

This episode: congressional correspondent Susan Davis, congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, and White House correspondent Scott Detrow.

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"It's Big" And "It's Bold": Biden Unveils Massive Infrastructure Plan

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"It's Big" And "It's Bold": Biden Unveils Massive Infrastructure Plan

"It's Big" And "It's Bold": Biden Unveils Massive Infrastructure Plan

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/983256707/983258707" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Hey there, it's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: I'm Kelsey Snell. I also cover Congress.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: And I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And it is 5:36 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31. And just a little bit ago, President Biden unveiled a historic infrastructure proposal at an appearance at a union carpenter training facility in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's 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. It'll create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. It will grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interest and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years. It's big, yes. It's bold, yes. And we can get it done.

DAVIS: Scott, you described this bill as a transformation of how America will get from Point A to Point B. Obviously, there's going to be a ton of stuff in a $2 trillion package. But what are the biggest highlights of what's in here?

DETROW: If I listed all the different areas that President Biden wants to spend money on, it would fill out the rest of the podcast and then some...

(LAUGHTER)

DETROW: ...Which says a lot right there, right? This is something that touches on roads, highways, the traditional things we think about with infrastructure. He wants to spend $100 billion repairing roads and highways. He wants to spend about the same amount building out high-speed broadband so everyone in the country has high-speed Internet access. He wants to replace all lead water pipes in the country, rebuild schools, whole bunch of different other things and included - like, if you just took this out, it would be a massive historic bill. Included in here is a lot of different things that would really speed up the country's transition to clean energy and would, in the process, lower the country's carbon footprint. That's something Biden has said is a key immediate goal of his.

DAVIS: Do you see something bigger happening here? - because when I look at this bill coming just weeks after President Biden just signed into law a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package and the tone of his speech today, it just seems like the Democratic Party right now is unapologetically embracing big government and big-government ideas.

DETROW: Absolutely. And, you know, we spent two years on this podcast talking about Joe Biden as the more moderate candidate in the mix with the Democratic presidential candidates, the one who was always saying, you know, we've got to do things that are actually achievable, not talk about all these pie-in-the-sky ideas. He has taken office and a mix of things - the way the party has moved over the last four years, the emergency facing the country of a pandemic that caused so much economic destruction and also, frankly, the fact that President Trump spent years as a big spender, not really sticking to the traditional smaller government things that Republicans talk about and saw that the Republican base was on board with that - Joe Biden has said, you know what? We're going to spend trillions and trillions of dollars to build this country out of this hole to fix things that need to be fixed. And I am not going to apologize for big government. And it's interesting that he is doing that at a time when Democrats have such narrow majorities in the House and Senate. You know, instead of trying to tack to the middle to protect those majorities, he is saying, here's what the Democratic Party stands for. And it's sure a lot different than what the party stood for when I was a senator.

SNELL: Yeah. And, you know, when I talk to Democrats about this, they say that the pandemic really did change everything. There was a situation where people across the country broadly felt like they had no idea what to do, that they were - one of the words that Democrats often use is that people felt like they were abandoned and they were looking for anybody to come and help them. And they view - you know, in these polls, they're seeing that - you know, people are saying they view the federal government coming in and helping them. And if that is the posture that voters are taking, well, then it gives Democrats a ton of license to say, well, if you like this version of big government, let me tell you more about this big government plan that I have had for the past several decades. And then they just - you know, it's not like these are brand-new policies. Democrats are rolling out stuff that's really bread-and-butter stuff for Democrats.

DAVIS: It's so funny because it's like the famous Ronald Reagan line. But, you know, the scariest lines are, I'm from the government; I'm here to help. But that's actually exactly what Democrats are saying right now. We're the government, and we're here to help.

SNELL: Right.

DETROW: And we're giving you a lot of checks in the process.

DAVIS: Yeah, exactly. Scott, Biden described this plan. You know, it's not just about roads and bridges. There - Democrats are talking about it as this proposal that will address climate change, that will talk about racial equity. How would this proposal address those issues?

DETROW: On racial inequities, it's really a throughline throughout the whole proposal. There's a lot of areas that are - that people of color are disproportionately affected by that he wants to fix and that people of color disproportionately use - right? - like, billions and billions to build up public transit in cities, billions of dollars to fix every - he wants to replace every lead water line in the country. That's something that we have seen in Flint, Mich., over a crisis that stretched years and years and years.

DAVIS: Right.

DETROW: And on climate, there's a lot of different smaller things in here. But a big theme of what he wants to do is just provide a lot of tax incentives to big energy utilities to continue doing what they're already doing at a faster pace and build more wind turbines, build more solar panel and build the new grids and transmission lines that are needed to get all of this new electricity into people's homes, into businesses.

DAVIS: Well, one good example of that in this proposal, I think, is what it would do for electric cars.

DETROW: He wants to spend - just to put it into perspective, he wants to spend more money on growing the number of electric vehicles in the country than he wants to spend repairing roads and bridges in an infrastructure plan. So that says a lot right there. And, you know, this country is built around cars. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, it's the reality. This is something that would massively change daily life. And he's really taking three different approaches here. First of all, he wants to provide tax credits and rebates to make people more willing to buy electric vehicles. Right now, electric vehicles are just much more expensive than traditional vehicles. The second thing he wants to do is shift government vehicles on the local level, on the federal level, from, you know, gasoline and diesel powered to electric.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: The federal government owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which are going to be transitioning to clean electric vehicles and hydrogen vehicles right here in the United States of America by American workers with American products.

DETROW: And the third thing that Biden wants to do is spend a lot of money getting state governments and local governments to build out those charging stations so that you can, you know, know that if you're driving your electric vehicle around, you have somewhere to charge it up just as easily as you could find a gas station. So it's interesting. None of these things are a mandate saying you have to build electric vehicles. He's just trying to provide massive incentives to speed up the shift to electric vehicles in the coming decade.

DAVIS: Kelsey, as I said, this price tag on this is about $2 trillion. I think you and I on the podcast have tried to put into some kind of context how much money that is. It's really hard to do. I mean, one thing I was thinking about is the entire discretionary budget for the federal government this year is $1.4 trillion. So this is bigger than the entire budget of the federal government. Do Democrats want to pay for it? And how do they want to pay for it if they do?

SNELL: Democrats want to pay for it by increasing corporate taxes and closing loopholes for - what they call loopholes for corporations. Basically, they want to roll back a big portion of the tax cuts that Republicans passed with President Trump. Now, as you can imagine, that's not being particularly well received by Republicans who voted for those tax cuts.

DAVIS: I can't imagine - I can't imagine it's going over very well.

SNELL: President Biden wants to increase the current tax rate from 21% on corporations to 28%. I should say that that is not nearly as far as progressives want to go. Senator Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Budget Committee, wants it to go up to 35%. So this is a - it's an increase, but it is not as far as some Democrats say it should be. But any increase at all in the corporate rate is bound to throw up a big fight with big businesses and with Republicans who say that cutting corporate taxes makes America more competitive on an international market and makes it easier for businesses to grow and thus hire more people. But if we're in a world where Democrats are talking about big government again, it stands to reason that they're also willing to stop talking about, you know, the idea of trickle-down economics, which is essentially what this gets back to - right? - is the idea that what's good for corporations winds up being good for people's jobs. Democrats are arguing the absolute opposite right now.

DAVIS: All right. Let's take a quick break. And when we get back, we'll talk more about this proposal and whether it has any chance of actually becoming law.

And we're back. And President Biden's infrastructure proposal is just that. It now has to go up to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have to put it into legislative text and see if they can pass it. Democrats control both chambers with these super narrow majorities. Kelsey, you already referenced the fact that Republicans aren't going to be thrilled about this plan because it would raise taxes. Real talk here - do you see any chance of Republicans getting on board for this?

SNELL: Well, to give you a flavor of the way they're talking about it, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell referred to it as a Trojan horse for the largest set of tax hikes in a generation. So...

DAVIS: All right.

SNELL: Yeah, judging by that framing, I don't think we're looking at any Republican support here. So that means we go back to the same world where you have to have unanimous support among Democrats in the Senate. You know, another good sign that Republicans aren't really going to be getting on board with this - I'm seeing a lot of statements and getting a lot of messages from staff saying that they don't feel comfortable with the idea that the Biden administration is essentially redefining what the word infrastructure means. Republicans are saying, you know, infrastructure is roads, bridges, waterways, ports, you know, improving airports. It's not the rest of this stuff. It's not the, you know, clean vehicles. It's not all of this stuff about raising taxes. And so if that is where they are on day one, it's really hard to walk back from that and get to. Yes.

DAVIS: Yeah. Scott, then, how do you see Biden in this speech tonight? You know, he made these sort of pointed overtures to Republicans, saying he's going to have them over to the White House and he wants to work with them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: The divisions of the moment shouldn't stop us from doing the right thing for the future. I'm going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office, listen to them, what they have to say and be open to other ideas. We'll have a good faith negotiation with any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.

DETROW: Yeah, I think two things are going on here. First of all, to use a patented Mara Liasson term, I think President Biden is eager to be caught trying to be bipartisan.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: Caught red-handed.

DETROW: Oh no, I wanted to reach out to Republicans. Like, this is a progressive bill. Like, that's very clear from our conversation about this. But at the same time, Biden is going to invite Republicans, I assume, particularly Senate Republicans, to the Oval Office for very long meetings, just like he did for the rescue plan. He already had a phone call with Mitch McConnell - seemed to not go too far when we saw Mitch McConnell's response to this proposal. But he is going to try.

The second thing that's happening is Biden has made it clear a lot - in a lot of answers lately that he is not going to judge whether or not he's being bipartisan, whether or not he's governing in a unifying way based on Republican votes in Congress, but rather, are these proposals popular? The rescue plan was really popular. And there are a lot of, I think, popular things here. I mean, there's the tax increase but corporate tax increases. I would assume when we see some polling, this will be almost as popular as the last proposal.

SNELL: You know, one funny thing that I've heard a couple of times in the past several months is that having meetings isn't having a negotiation. Those are different things. And the senators are pretty aware of the difference between a meeting with the president and a negotiation with the president. And what he did on the American Rescue Act, people say, was a meeting not a negotiation.

DETROW: Would you rather be in a meeting or a negotiation?

SNELL: (Laughter) Are there snacks?

DAVIS: On the flipside of all this, you know, obviously not expecting much of any Republican support, but progressives - they like it, but they might not love it. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, obviously a Democrat from New York - a very vocal part of the progressive wing - was talking to our colleague Danielle Kurtzleben yesterday. And she kind of said that she didn't think this package, this $2 trillion package, was adequate enough.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: It's disappointing, you know, because these price tags - it's not just about how much money the package is, right? It's about the timeline. And 2.25 trillion over 10 years is just not enough.

DETROW: I think Ocasio-Cortez saying that is probably good politics for Joe Biden, right?

DAVIS: Yeah, yeah.

SNELL: Absolutely.

DETROW: You know, just, like, he is able to routinely say, I'm not for defund the police; I don't want to ban fracking, every time the attack is that he is this this liberal wish list grant-maker. You know, this is a good example of him saying, you know, I don't agree with more progressive members of the party. You heard similar criticism last time around with the rescue plan. Almost all the high-profile - you know, all the high-profile progressives in the House ended up voting for it despite the fact they were really upset the minimum wage increase wasn't in it, among other things.

DAVIS: Yeah. I mean, I think that's a really fundamental difference between the two parties that people have to understand, where when Republicans were in control, the conservative base would so often take down legislation they didn't support. And it just doesn't mirror into the Democratic Party. The left gets angry a lot. They get grumpy a lot. But when push comes to shove, they are much more likely to vote yes than vote no, especially on legislation that is seen as sort of the driving, animating force for the party.

SNELL: They don't seem to have purity tests on legislation that is most of the way to what they want.

DAVIS: Yeah. Scott, we should note that this is just sort of Step 1 of a two-part vision that Biden has for big social change in this country. I think they're set to unveil the next wave of it in the coming weeks. What do we know about what the White House is looking to do with the next proposal?

DETROW: I think it's a lot of social safety net-type programs. Biden referred to it today as the American Families Plan. He says it's coming in a few weeks. I think you can expect to see a lot of things like expanded, mandated paid family leave, those types of things, you know, universal pre-K - again, a lot of the things that we spent a lot of time hearing and reading white papers from other candidates in the Democratic primary. So these are going to be two massive spending proposals to go on top of the third massive spending proposal that was already signed into law. And I don't know if you both have heard this as well, but I've heard from a few Democrats in Congress who feel like there's a pretty good chance that this proposal we're talking about today and this next one down the line could end up bunched together in just one enormous, massive gigantic bill.

SNELL: Congress loves a gigantic bill - loves it.

DAVIS: They do. Although, Kelsey, I have to say if Republicans don't like this infrastructure bill, heads might explode over the social welfare program expansion that is coming.

SNELL: (Laughter) Oh, yeah. There are going to be a lot of hot speeches on the Senate floor.

DAVIS: All right. Well, I think that is a wrap for us for today. We're going to be back at our regular time tomorrow to talk about sports on the politics podcast and the NCAA fight before the Supreme Court.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

SNELL: I'm Kelsey Snell. I also cover Congress.

DETROW: And I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

DAVIS: And thanks for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIGTOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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