Last updated: 7/7/2021

Infrastructure

POLICY BRIEF & QUESTIONNAIRE

Groups Working on Infrastructure Packages

President Biden - Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images); Common Sense Coalition - ; Problem Solvers Caucus - Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images);Republican Negotiators - Photo by Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

Core Questions

  1. How expansive should the list be?
  2. How much should we spend?
  3. How do we pay for it?

Both leading Republican and Democratic voices have argued for decades that America should invest significantly more in its infrastructure. President Trump argued that a substantial increase in spending is needed. This year, President Biden has made infrastructure a higher priority than any president since Eisenhower established the interstate freeway system in the 1950s.

The policy debate that Congress and the White House are having about how ambitious our infrastructure investment should be is currently occupying more attention than any other policy debate in Washington. The discussion centers on three key questions. First, what should infrastructure include? Second, how much should the federal government invest in American infrastructure? Third, how should we pay for new infrastructure spending?

What to Include

President Biden and other Democrats support a broader list of what should be included in an infrastructure package than Republicans do. The Biden Administration started this year’s serious infrastructure discussion with the proposal detailed in his American Jobs Plan which includes categories of what they call “human infrastructure.” Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and her Republican Senate colleagues led the Republican Party’s negotiations with the White House and proposed their own infrastructure package that included a narrower set of physical infrastructure categories.

Two congressional groups have each offered bipartisan proposals that include fewer categories than the American Jobs Plan but more than Senate Republicans’ plan. In the Senate, the Common Sense Coalition (CSC), a group of ten Democrats and ten Republicans led by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME), have addressed infrastructure.  Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Rob Portman (R-OH) led the infrastructure sub-committee of that larger bipartisan Senate group that developed a package that has now been endorsed by the CSC as a whole. In the House, the Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC), a group of 29 Democratic and 29 Republican representatives led by Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) developed a bipartisan proposal (go here and here for more details on their proposal).

Most recently, President Biden announced that he has agreed with the Common Sense Coalition (CSC) on a Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework to guide the negotiations to finalize the details of infrastructure legislation. The agreement announced by the White House follows CSC’s more limited list of what to include in bipartisan infrastructure legislation. The categories in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan not included in the bipartisan framework are generally categories that President Biden has called “human infrastructure” like caregiving for aging Americans and those with disabilities along with hospitals for veterans. The White House has pledged to pursue these human infrastructure categories in separate legislation. President Biden further explained that this separate legislation will also include his American Families Plan. The $1.8 trillion American Families plan includes support for child care, paid leave, universal preschool, and free community college. It appears clear that this second legislative package could only pass through reconciliation, a procedural mechanism that would allow Democrats to advance it on a purely party-line basis if all 50 Senate Democrats and almost all Democrats in the House agree.

This brief breaks the discussion of what should be included in an infrastructure package into 11 categories. They are listed roughly in order from those with the greatest bipartisan agreement that they should be included to those with the least agreement.

The categories we review are the 11 included in the agreement that President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition struck.

There has been wide agreement from the start that the first five categories readily fit within the standard definition of infrastructure and should receive new investments. The initial American Jobs Plan, the initial Senate Republicans’ plan, the Common Sense Coalition Plan, and the Problem Solvers Caucus plan all include proposals for increased investment in: (1) surface transportation, which includes roads and bridges, rail, and public transit, (2) broadband, (3) water systems, (4) airports, and (5) ports and waterways.

Bipartisan negotiations have resulted in two additional categories now receiving support from all four perspectives. The sixth category we consider is water storage. At the request of Senate Republicans, President Biden agreed to include new investments for water storage. The seventh category is electric vehicles. Senate Republicans’ agreed to President Biden’s request to include funding for electric-vehicle charging stations in their revised package. Both water storage and electric vehicles are also included in the Common Sense Coalition package that President Biden now supports, as well as the Problem Solvers Caucus proposal.

President Biden’s and the Common Sense Coalition’s agreed upon framework includes the final four categories of the 11 that we consider. Each of the final four are also included by the Problem Solvers Caucus but not by Senate Republicans. In the order in which we consider them, they are: (8) power infrastructure, (9) reconnecting communities divided by previous infrastructure projects, (10) resilience to extreme weather and other climate-related challenges, and (11) remediating abandoned industrial and energy sites.

We do not review the four additional categories that were part of President Biden’s original American Jobs Plan and for which he will continue to advocate as part of the second legislative package that will include his American Families Plan.

How Much to Spend

There is significant bipartisan support for an historic increase in federal infrastructure investment. Democrats generally believe the increase should be much more than Republicans do. President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition significantly improved the prospects that bipartisan legislation will pass when they announced that they have agreed in their framework to an overall increase of $579 billion in total new spending over five years ($1.21 trillion with baseline spending). Still, many Democrats in Congress believe the number should be much higher and many Republicans believe it should be lower.

The agreement between President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition comes after months of serious negotiations. Initially, those negotiations were primarily between President Biden and Senate Republicans. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan initially called for $2.25 trillion in new infrastructure spending over ten years. In negotiations with Senate Republicans, he then reduced the proposed overall spending to $1.7 trillion (about $2.5 trillion including the baseline amount the federal government already expects to spend over that time).

Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and her Republican colleagues in the Senate initially proposed $174 billion in new spending above the federal baseline over eight years. Their revised proposal after negotiations with President Biden includes $298 billion in total new spending over eight years ($928 billion if you include baseline spending over that period).

The Problem Solvers Caucus has proposed $619 billion in new federal spending over eight years ($1.25 trillion with baseline spending).

We review the details on the differences in how much each of the four plans propose for each of the 11 categories later in the brief.

How to Pay for It

Finally, perhaps the greatest remaining differences are about how to pay for more infrastructure spending. Two of the largest funding sources in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition have negotiated are (1) closing the tax gap between what is paid and what is owed and (2) repurposing unused COVID relief funds.

President Biden’s Made in America Plan is the companion to the American Jobs Plan that proposes ways to pay for the new infrastructure investments. It identifies increased corporate taxes as the primary funding mechanism. President Biden has indicated he will continue to advocate for these new revenue sources in the second legislative package that will also include his American Families Plan and the human infrastructure categories not included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. Senate Republicans’ infrastructure roadmap proposes two mechanisms to pay for new infrastructure spending that are not included in the Bipartisan

Infrastructure Framework. First, Senate Republicans suggest that those who use infrastructure bear the costs for it in the form of increased gas and diesel taxes and other user fees. Second, they propose that we streamline permitting processes to save money and make the infrastructure investments go further.

The original Common Sense Coalition proposal included user fees and taxes but they agreed to drop those in the negotiations with President Biden. The Problem Solvers Caucus proposal for how to pay for infrastructure was detailed in their 20-page infrastructure report that preceded their proposal for what to include and how much to spend. It also includes provisions from both President Biden’s and Senate Republicans’ plans, as well as other innovative mechanisms.


Overview of the Brief

This brief aims to provide information that will be useful for coming to your own answers on the three big questions of what to include, how much to spend, and how to pay for it. In the first section, we first review the strongest case for an overall infrastructure package that is big both in the sense that it is broad in the range of categories to be included and large in the total amount to be spent. This first section then reviews the strongest case for an investment that is smaller both in terms of the number of categories to be included and the total amount to be spent. We also provide you with the best available evidence to help judge the claims being made in both cases.

In the second section, we review the proposed spending levels in each of the 11 categories of what could be included and the case for and against big investments in each.

The third section of the brief reviews the proposals for how to pay for increased infrastructure spending.

In the concluding section, we ask you to consider each the four infrastructure plans overall.

Along the way, we ask you to indicate your own conclusions. We ask about whether to include a given category and how much to spend on it after each of the 11 categories is reviewed in the second section. We ask you to indicate how you think we should pay for it in the third section. In the concluding section, we ask you whether you support or oppose each of the four infrastructure packages reviewed overall and whether support for infrastructure legislation should be tied to other legislation.

Suggestions for How to Read the Brief

Deciding whether or not we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars across 11 categories of investments is a big question. To provide complete information, this brief is necessarily long. Likely, it would take you more than the 90 minutes you committed when you joined to read each part carefully. If you are willing to spend the extra time, that will be a great help as the nation contemplates such a significant investment.

If you are not able to spend more than 90 minutes, we invite you to dig in where you think it is warranted and scan the information more quickly where that feels appropriate.

Decision science suggests that with thousands of us each making our own determinations about where to investigate more deeply, the overall results will reflect the full range of information provided to a surprising degree.

To make the topic more manageable, we have critically reviewed and then summarized hundreds of pages of studies, reports, and proposals. We have also designed this brief to be easily scannable, including many graphics that quickly summarize the most relevant information.

While you’re welcome to scan some sections, all the questions are required. You will not be able to submit your responses until you have answered each question. Please scan the information, particularly the graphs, sufficiently that you can form a reasonably informed answer.

One note of caution. We all have a tendency to seek out information that confirms our prior beliefs and ignore information that challenges them. Your individual judgment, and our collective results, will be wiser if we each seek out information that challenges our existing views, as well as information that supports them.

Getting to an Apples-to-Apples Comparison

To create apples-to-apples comparisons, we focus on proposed new spending per year.

The total amounts proposed may look different than what you have heard on the news. The reporting has been inconsistent in distinguishing between how much of each proposal is already in the current baseline of expected federal funding and how much new spending in addition to the baseline is proposed. President Biden has generally described his plan in terms of new spending and has not included the baseline in his total. Senate Republicans, in contrast, have generally included the baseline funding as part of their total proposed spending.

The press has also been inconsistent in distinguishing between the timelines for spending the money. The American Jobs Plan calls for spending the total amount proposed over the course of 10 years. The Senate Republican and the Problem Solvers Caucus plans propose eight years of spending. The Common Sense Coalition plan, now with the support of President Biden, proposes spending over a five year period.

To create an apples-to-apples comparison, we have created Figure 1. Our discussion and Figure 1 focus on the average amount of new federal spending proposed per year that is above the expected federal baseline. 

The parties have agreed to assume about $80 billion per year in baseline funding overall. Figure 1 breaks out the current baseline spending from how much each proposal would add to it. The apples-to-apples comparison then, is that President Biden’s revised American Jobs plan proposes $170 billion and the Senate Republicans’ revised plan proposes $37.7 billion. Spent over five rather than eight or ten years, the Common Sense Coalition (now supported by President Biden) proposes $115.8 billion per year.  While the Problems Solvers Caucus in the House proposes slightly more in total spending than their bipartisan Senate colleagues in the Common Sense Coalition, their proposed new spending each year comes in at a much lower  $77.3 billion because it is spread over eight years rather than five.

Benchmarks for Judging How Much We Should Spend

Objective benchmarks of the actual infrastructure need are one of the most useful ways of moving beyond supporting one proposal over another simply because of who proposes it. Figure 1 summarizes the four proposals and compares them to three benchmarks.

First, we provide a letter grade for the current condition of infrastructure. These grades are awarded by the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) in their 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Issued every four years, it is a frequently cited source on the state of American infrastructure. As seen in Figure 1, ASCE gives America’s overall infrastructure a grade of C- which is a slight improvement over the D+ it earned in 2017. Below that, we also provide the grades that ASCE awards for six of the 11 individual categories of infrastructure that we consider, as well as the trend line of whether the condition of each is declining, staying steady, or improving (they do not provide grades for the other five categories).

Second, we provide ASCE’s estimates of infrastructure funding needs where available as a benchmark. Figure 1 states each proposal in terms of the percentage of estimated funding needed to bring the grade up to a B.

Third, where available, we provide the current baseline levels of federal funding. Figure 1 expresses each proposal in terms of the percentage increase in federal baseline spending.

Figure 1a: Comparing New Infrastructure Proposals - Overall Yearly Spend

ASCE ESTIMATES

C-

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$251B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

ASCE VS NON-ASCE FUNDING

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

ASCE VS NON-ASCE FUNDING

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

Biden
GOP
CSC
PSC
  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC

TOTAL DOLLARS ALLOCATED BY CATEGORY

Click category names in the legend below to hide and show various different categories.

*Other category includes items that we do not cover in the brief like Infrastructure Financing Bank, Multimodal Large Investments, and Asset Recycling.

We are also including Figure 1b in this first section of the brief so that you can see an overview of what each plan proposes in all 15 categories before we turn to the category-specific section of the brief.

If you would like to bypass the 15 category summary Click Here

Figure 1b: Comparing Yearly New Infrastructure Spending Proposals - Broken out by Category

1. SURFACE TRANSPORTATION

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

$122B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC

Learn More about SURFACE TRANSPORTATION


Infrastructure

When most people think of infrastructure, they think first of roads and bridges. The passenger and freight rail system and public transit are also important categories of surface transportation. We will consider surface transportation first as a whole and then examine each of three sub-categories.

The ASCE 2021 Report Card estimates that we need $122 billion per year in total new funding (including state and local) to raise the condition of our surface transportation to a B grade. President Biden’s plan would add $30.4 billion per year, which is 25% of the new funding needed and a 44% increase in federal baseline spending. The Senate Republicans’ plan would add $15.5 billion per year, which is 13% of the new funding needed and a 23% increase in federal funding. The Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports proposes $47.1 billion in new funding, which is 39% of the need and a 69% increase in federal funding. The Problem Solvers’ plan proposes $38.7 billion, providing 32% of the need and a 57% increase in federal funding per year.


1a. ROADS & BRIDGES (WITH SAFETY INVESTMENTS)

ASCE ESTIMATES ROADS

D

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

ASCE ESTIMATES BRIDGES

C

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Down

Trend - Slightly Down

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for Roads & Bridges. It is included in the total need for Surface Transportation.

Learn More about ROADS & BRIDGES


Roads and Bridges

The ASCE 2021 Report Card gives our roads a D grade, the same grade they earned in 2017. The nation’s bridges got a grade of C in 2021, down from a C+ in 2017. ASCE does not provide an estimate of what it would take to increase the grade of our roads and bridges to a B separate from the overall surface transportation category.

Investing in improved roads and bridges is one of the areas of greatest agreement between President Biden and Senate Republicans. Though President Biden was initially calling for substantially more than Senate Republicans, he adjusted to propose close to the same amount. President Biden’s revised American Jobs Plan proposed $13.9 billion in new spending per year and Senate Republicans propose $13.7 billion. President Biden’s plan represented a 27% increase in federal baseline funding and the Senate Republicans’ plan is a 26% increase. At $24.2 billion, the CSC plan that President Biden now supports would increase federal funding by 46%, the most of the four plans. At $20.6 billion, the PSC plan is the second most proposed and a 39% increase in federal spending.

The Case for a Big Investment

Supporters argue that a significant increase in road and bridges funding attracts such broad, bipartisan consensus because no other category of infrastructure more directly impacts Americans’ daily lives. Sitting in slow traffic is a major frustration experienced everyday by millions of Americans, supporters observe.

Beyond inconvenience, supporters argue, there is also broad consensus that the substandard condition of too many of our roads and bridges imposes unacceptable economic, safety, and environmental costs. Economically, roads and bridges in poor condition are costly in terms of delays caused by traffic congestion and extra repairs. In terms of safety, they argue, poor roads and bridges cause too many preventable injuries and deaths. In terms of the environment, longer travel times due to congestion also mean higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

There are some ranging from the very conservative to the very liberal who argue for more modest levels of road and bridge funding. First, they argue that most of the critical roads and bridges are in an acceptable condition and that the economic, safety, and environmental costs are often exaggerated. Increasing federal spending by more than 25%, they argue, only means that we will invest in roads and bridges further down the cost/benefit ratio priority list.

Second, supporters of a more modest increase observe that expanding their capacity does little in the long run to address the traffic congestion problem. They cite the common experience in which highway expansion only initially results in less congestion and shorter commute times. Over time, those shorter commute times make living farther out from the urban centers more feasible. Consequently, more and cheaper housing is built farther out from cities creating the congestion problem all over again. We will never get ahead of the curve, they argue, by simply expanding road capacity.

Third, some point out that we came to more fully appreciate the advantages of remote work during the pandemic. By not driving our cars to work, some argue, we not only save time and money, but we also reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by car accidents and reduce carbon emissions. Supporters of a more modest infrastructure investment argue that we do not yet know how much the experience with remote work will decrease the congestion and wear and tear on America’s roads long term. Now, they argue, is not the time for a major increase in roads funding.

The Evidence

ASCE finds that 43% of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has stayed steady for many years. The vast majority of those roads in poor and mediocre condition are more minor roads, with most interstate freeways in good or excellent condition. ASCE reports that 7.5% of the nation’s bridges are designated structurally deficient, an improvement from 12.1% a decade ago.

ASCE also finds that 30% of the trips in the United States are impacted by severe or extreme traffic congestion, causing an extra 8.8 billion hours in travel time and burning an extra 3.3 billion gallons of fuel. Roads in sub-standard condition also cause nearly $130 billion per year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Nevertheless, ASCE acknowledges that the evidence shows how elusive it is to reduce congestion impacts by spending more on our roads. In part, this is because of “induced demand,” the technical term for the common effect observed that decreasing congestion by investing in increased road capacity is often ineffective because it leads to greater housing development farther out from cities. In its 2021 Report Card, ASCE said:

“However, as every lane-mile of road costs approximately $24,000 annually in operation and maintenance, roadway expansion can be more costly and less efficient than operational changes. In fact, in many cases, roadway expansion can lead to induced demand and further sprawl.”

The ASCE figure of $24,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs for every lane-mile does not include the much higher upfront capital costs of building new lanes in the first place.


1b. PASSENGER & FREIGHT RAIL

ASCE ESTIMATES

B

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for Passenger & Freight Rail. It is included in the total need for Surface Transportation.

Learn More about PASSENGER & FREIGHT RAIL


Passenger & Freight Rail

The rail system that carries both passengers and freight in our country earns a grade of B. That is the second highest grade ASCE gave in 2021 and the same grade the rail system got in 2017. Since ASCE’s estimates for new funding need are based on what it would take to achieve a B, no additional spending is needed to achieve that for rail.

Nevertheless, all four new spending plans include percentage increases that are the largest of all categories. The White House plan proposed $8 billion in additional spending each year, a 267% increase in federal funding. Senate Republicans call for $2.8 billion in new spending on our rail system. At 92%, it is the single biggest increase in federal infrastructure spending proposed by Senate Republicans. The Common Sense Coalition proposal that President Biden now supports includes $13.2 billion, a 440% increase in federal funding. The Problem Solvers’ plan for $12 billion in new spending is a 400% increase.

The Case for a Big Investment

The far greater energy efficiency of rail compared to roads in transporting people and goods is a major reason offered by supporters for a particularly large increase in federal spending on rail. Supporters also point out that passenger rail, particularly in the Northeast Corridor, is subject to many costly and frustrating delays due to the inferior condition of the rail infrastructure. Reducing those delays, they argue, would increase ridership and help reduce the traffic delays on the northeast’s crowded highways.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Both Republicans and Democrats who argue for a more modest investment in rail emphasize ASCE’s finding that the country’s rail system has already achieved the target B grade and is in better condition than almost all other categories of infrastructure. Because its condition has been good and steady at current levels of federal funding, opponents argue that even the Republican proposal to nearly double the level of federal funding for rail is simply not justified. They argue that much larger increases in the other three plans are even less justified.

The Evidence

The Federal Railroad Administration found that rail is 1.9 to 5.5 times more fuel efficient than trucks for transporting goods, depending on route and distances. ASCE also reported 328,000 train-delay minutes (about 5,467 hours) per year within the Northeast Rail Corridor due to infrastructure-related issues.


1c. PUBLIC TRANSIT

ASCE ESTIMATES

D-

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for Public Transit. It is included in the total need for Surface Transportation.

Learn More about PUBLIC TRANSIT


Public Transit

ASCE gave our public transit system a D- in 2021, the same grade that it got in 2017.

Here, the difference between the White House and Senate Republicans is especially large. The Biden Administration’s plan included $8.5 billion annually in new funding for public transit, a 64% increase in federal funding. The Senate Republicans’ plan would actually reduce current funding by $1 billion, an 8% decrease in current federal funding. The CSC proposal that President Biden now backs would spend $9.7 billion, a 73% increase in federal funding. The Problem Solvers’ proposal to spend $6.2 is a 47% increase.

The Case for a Big Investment

Public transit supporters argue that it provides an effective solution to the congestion problem. Unlike traveling by personal cars, public transit becomes more cost efficient with higher levels of ridership. Because it avoids the induced demand problem, they argue, it is a real congestion solution. In addition, proponents argue that public transit emits fewer greenhouse gases and provides transportation essential to those who cannot afford their own car.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Even before the pandemic, many Republicans argue, people were voting with their feet and ridership on public transit was declining. With the experience of the many advantages of remote work and greater concern about communicable diseases since the pandemic, opponents suggest now is not the time for significant increases in public transit investment.

The Evidence

ASCE reports that 19% of transit vehicles and 6% of tracks and tunnels are in “poor” condition. About 45% of Americans do not have access to public transit. The total number of public transit trips peaked in 2014 and had declined by 8% prior to the pandemic. Nearly 50% of public transit trips are by bus.


2. BROADBAND

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a

Learn More about BROADBAND


Broadband Infrastructure

The newest form of physical infrastructure we consider also attracts strong bipartisan support for new investments. Democrats and Republicans agree that the accessibility of high-speed internet connections for homes and businesses is increasingly important. Because both rural areas and lower income urban areas are underserved, broadband tends to bridge the usual partisan divides.

The country’s broadband infrastructure made it into the ASCE Report Card for the first time in 2021. Because the category is so new they did not have the same metrics and comparisons as they do for other kinds of infrastructure. Consequently, they did not give it a grade or estimate how much more funding is needed. The report concluded that “American’s reliance on fast internet is only forecasted to grow in coming years.”

President Biden and Senate Republicans not only agree that broadband deserves significant new funding, they also now agree on just how much more. The American Jobs Plan originally called for $10 billion in new broadband spending per year but reduced it to $8.1 billion to match Senate Republicans’ plan. Because the Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports calls for spending the same total amount over the shorter five year time period, that plan works out to $13 billion each year in new broadband funding. The Problem Solvers Caucus calls for $5.6 billion per year in new spending.

The Case for a Big Investment

While the pandemic has created questions about whether demand for various types of transportation infrastructure will be reduced long-term by our experience with remote work, it highlighted for Democrats and Republicans alike how critical the infrastructure is that provides high-speed internet connections. Even before the pandemic, the importance of broadband was increasing rapidly, they observe. Economically, broadband provides access to the increasingly wide range of opportunities for remote work and can make the difference in businesses’ decisions about where to locate. Broadband was also already providing access to an exploding range of remote learning resources, supporters note. Increasingly, broadband has been facilitating access to healthcare delivery, including through telemedicine. The pandemic significantly accelerated all these developments, advocates observe.

Supporters argue that investing significantly more in high-speed internet connectivity today is akin to investing in rural electrification in the 1930’s or the interstate highway system in the 1950’s. Proponents argue that this investment will fundamentally make our economy and society more efficient and effective.

Supporters also argue that significant new investments in broadband will help our nation live up to its ideal of equal opportunity for all by powerfully addressing economic, educational, and health inequities. Underserved communities are found in both rural and distressed urban areas. Access to greater economic and educational opportunities, and to healthcare, are most profoundly needed in these areas of our country, supporters argue.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Some argue that the free market has already provided high-speed internet connections everywhere that it is cost-effective to do so. Where that investment would make a strong economic return, public utilities and other for-profit companies have already built out the necessary infrastructure. Extending broadband where it currently is not available, opponents argue, will be prohibitively expensive and bring benefits to fewer people.

The Evidence

The National Association of Counties (NACo) found that in 2020 65% of counties had average connection speeds slower than the definition of broadband. NACo found that slow connections were particularly common in less populated counties. According to the Center for Public Integrity, households with incomes over $80,700 are five times more likely to have access to broadband than households with less than $34,800 in income.


3. WATER INFRASTRUCTURE

ASCE ESTIMATES

C-

Current Grade

Trending Up

Trend - Up

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for water.  It is included with the total amount along with wastewater and stormwater.

Learn More about WATER INFRASTRUCTURE


Water Infrastructure

The systems that convey water to our homes and businesses make up a fundamental category of infrastructure. In 2021, ASCE gave the nation’s water infrastructure a C-, up from the D it got in 2017. ASCE did not provide an estimate of how much new funding would be needed to improve the condition of our water infrastructure to a B separate from its estimate of $43.4 billion needed for drinking water along with wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The infrastructure that brings water to American homes and businesses gets among the highest proposed increases in federal funding in all four infrastructure plans. The American Jobs Plan has the largest proposal with $11.1 billion per year in new water infrastructure spending, a 370% increase. The Republican plan calls for $6 billion, a 200% increase in federal baseline spending. The CSC framework that President Biden now supports proposes $11 billion, a 368% increase. The PSC plan proposes $4.5 billion, a 150% increase.

The Case for a Big Investment

Democratic and Republican proponents of a major increase in spending on our water infrastructure particularly emphasize the need to eliminate lead pipes. Given the known significant health risks, there is wide agreement that the number of homes and businesses that get their water through lead pipes remains alarmingly and unacceptably high. Proponents also argue that the number of water main breaks is too high and getting higher.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Those who argue for a more modest investment in our water infrastructure point out that it is already improving without more investment, increasing from a D in 2017 to a C- in 2021.

The Evidence

The EPA reports an estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines. The ASCE cites a report that there were an estimated 250,000 – 300,000 water main breaks in 2018, a 27% increase from 2012.


4. AIRPORTS

ASCE ESTIMATES

D+

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$11.1B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC

Learn More about AIRPORTS


Airports

ASCE gave the nation’s airports a grade of D+ in 2021, up from a D in 2017. ASCE estimates that $11.1 billion more per year is needed to bring airports up to a B.

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes $2.5 billion in new federal airports funding per year, covering 23% of the ASCE-estimated new funding need and representing a 66% increase in federal funding. At $3.2 billion, the Senate Republican plan actually calls for more. The Senate Republican plan is 29% of the additional funding need estimated by ASCE and an 84% increase in current federal funding. The Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports proposes $5 billion, an investment that would cover 45% of the need and would increase federal funding by 132%. At $1.3 billion, the Problem Solvers propose the smallest airport investment, an investment that would cover 12% of the estimated need and increase federal funding 35%.

The Case for a Big Investment

Air travel, proponents argue, is critical to robust commerce both domestically and internationally. Air travel delays are excessive, they argue, and enormously disruptive for both business and personal travel. We need to invest in greater airport capacity if we are to reduce travel delays.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Like other forms of transportation, proponents of a smaller increase in airport infrastructure argue that the demand for air travel may see a long-term reduction because of the pandemic. Even more than travel by personal car, rail, or public transit, some argue, the pandemic demonstrated how costly business air travel is. A video conference meeting, they point out, saves significant time and expense and leaves a far smaller carbon footprint. Before investing significantly in increased air travel capacity, they argue, we should first see what demand after the pandemic will be.

The Evidence

ASCE’s 2021 report card cited the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) findings that two core measures of airport infrastructure conditions were nearly unchanged. The “on-time” flights decreased slightly from 80.1% in 2017 to 79.2% in 2019. ASCE suggested that the slight on-time flight decrease was due to growth in passenger travel without a corresponding number of available flights. ASCE acknowledges that the post-pandemic demand picture is unclear. NPIAS also reports that over the same time the percentage of runways in excellent, good, or fair condition increased slightly from 97.8% to 97.9%. Given the significant reduction in flights during the pandemic, the wear and tear on runways has been less since 2019.


5. PORT & WATER WAYS

ASCE ESTIMATES PORTS

B+

Current Grade

Trending Up

Trend - Up

$0

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

ASCE ESTIMATES WATER WAYS

D+

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$2.5B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC

Learn More about PORT & WATER WAYS


Ports and Waterways

American ports and inland waterways are another important way that we move goods in our country. ASCE gives our ports a B+, the highest grade that they gave any category of infrastructure. It is also one of the most rapidly improving categories, improving a full grade from the C+ they earned in 2017. The B+ is also beyond the ASCE target of a B for increased funding. On the other hand, our inland waterways infrastructure, much of which facilitates moving goods on the Mississippi and other major river systems, received a D+, up from a D in 2017. ASCE estimates that $2.5 billion per year is required to bring inland waterways up to a B.

The Biden Administration proposed $1.7 billion in new spending per year for both ports and inland waterways, which is 68% of the ASCE estimated need and a 94% increase in federal baseline funding. Senate Republicans call for $1 billion, which is 40% of the ASCE estimated need and a 56% increase in federal funding. CSC, now with President Biden’s support, calls for $3.3 billion, which is 130% of the need and a 181% increase in federal funding. PSC’s plan includes $1.5 billion, which is 58% of the estimated need and an 81% increase in federal funding.

The Case for a Big Investment

Democratic and Republican proponents observe that moving goods by water is more cost and energy efficient even than moving them by rail and much more cost effective than by truck.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Proponents for a smaller investment point to the ASCE grade of B+ for ports. With the highest grade of all categories of infrastructure evaluated and an improving grade, they argue, ports are simply an unwise place to significantly increase federal funding. While the ASCE grade of D+ for inland waterways indicates a greater need for investment, proponents of a more modest investment emphasize that their condition is improving at current levels of federal investment. Given these grades, they argue, even the Senate Republican’s call for a 56% increase in combined federal spending for ports and inland waterways is excessive. The other three plans are even more excessive, they argue.

The Evidence

A 2017 update of the report by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University found that it is 70 times more fuel efficient to move dry cargo by barge than by truck and 16 times more fuel efficient than by rail. ASCE reported that the tonnage at America’s top ports grew by 4.4% from 2015 to 2019.


6. WATER STORAGE

ASCE ESTIMATES

D

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

$8.1B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC

Learn More about PORT & WATER WAYS


Water Storage

Dams are built in all 50 states to store water. Dams are also built to control floods, generate hydroelectric power, irrigate, and provide recreation. The ASCE Report Card gives America’s dams a D, the same grade they received in 2017. ASCE estimates that $8.1 billion in new funding is needed each year for dams to get to a B.

President Biden and Republican Senators have now agreed that there is a need for new funding for water storage. President Biden called for $300 million in new federal funding per year, which is 4% of the ASCE estimated need and a 17% increase in federal funding. The Senate Republican plan and the Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports both include $1 billion in new funding, which is 12% of ASCE’s estimated need and a 56% increase in federal spending. The Problem Solvers Caucus proposes decreasing federal baseline spending by $100 million per year, a 3% reduction.

The Case for a Big Investment

Within the focus on water storage, the President, Senate Republicans, and the Common Sense Coalition have agreed that the need is particularly concentrated in the American West. The arid conditions typical of the west make water storage critical infrastructure for reliable access to water. They argue that a severe long-term drought, coupled with rapidly growing populations and an aging dam infrastructure, has made the issue of adequate, reliable water storage in the west even more crucial.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

As important as the need for reliable western water storage is, the Problem Solvers suggest that slightly less than current funding is sufficient to address the critical needs.

The Evidence

A 2020 update by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of its National Inventory of Dams cited in the ASCE report found that the number of dams with high potential for loss of life and property damage if they failed has doubled over the last 20 years. That is not because more dams have fallen into disrepair. Instead, it is because more homes and businesses are being built in areas that would be impacted by the failure of an existing dam.


7. ELECTRIC VEHICLES

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a

Learn More about ELECTRIC VEHICLES


Electric VehiclesASCE’s report card does not include a separate infrastructure category or grade for electric vehicles, though it does mention electric vehicle charging stations in its assessment of the electric grid. A baseline of current federal spending on electric vehicles has also not been provided.

Senate Republicans did not include investments for electric-vehicle-related infrastructure in their original proposal but have now agreed they should be included. The Common Sense Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus also include it. Wide differences remain among the four plans, however, over what to include in the investment and how much to invest.

The American Jobs Plan proposed $17.4 billion in new spending per year for investments in electric vehicles, most of which is divided over three sub-categories. The first sub-category arguably fits the usual understanding that infrastructure includes physical systems built to be broadly available to the public and that help the economy function efficiently. It would provide $1.5 billion per year in grants and incentives for state and local governments to build a national infrastructure of 500,000 electric-vehicle chargers. The other two electric-vehicle sub-categories reflect a broader definition of infrastructure. President Biden proposed $10 billion in new spending per year for rebates and tax incentives to encourage the purchase of American-made electric vehicles. He also proposed $4.5 billion per year to replace diesel transit vehicles with electric ones and to electrify school buses.

The latest proposal by Senate Republicans calls for $0.5 billion per year for electric vehicle charging stations.

President Biden now supports CSC’s plan for $3 billion, half of which would be for charging stations and the other half would be for low and no carbon emission buses and ferries. PSC would invest $3.1 billion for both charging stations and electric buses.

The Case for a Big Investment

Electric vehicle supporters argue that the technologies both for alternative sources of electricity like solar and wind power as well as for plug-in electric vehicles themselves are improving rapidly. Those technological improvements, they argue, make it smart economically for the nation to move boldly toward electric vehicles. Leading the global market for electric vehicles can be a source of good middle-class jobs for decades to come, the White House suggests, just as U.S. leadership in gas and diesel cars and trucks have provided Americans with good jobs going back to the Ford Model T. 

Moving from gas and diesel to electric vehicles that are charged by alternative electricity sources, supporters argue, will also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a major step in addressing the challenge of climate change.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Senate Republicans agree that investment in a national infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations is appropriate for inclusion in an infrastructure package because it fits within the standard definition of the term. Many also agree that moving towards electric vehicles is smart economically and environmentally.

Senate Republicans argue, though, that it is wiser to move more slowly than the Biden Administration proposes, particularly given the massive increases in other federal spending.

Senate Republicans also suggest that the other two electric vehicle parts of the American Jobs Plan investments are both excessive in their amount of federal spending and beyond the definition of infrastructure. Opponents argue that whatever the merits of rebates and tax incentives for purchasing American-made electric vehicles and for electrifying transit vehicles and school buses, they are not for a debate about infrastructure.

The Evidence

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory study estimates the United States will need about 628,000 public chargers to accommodate 15 million electric vehicles by 2030. A 2021 analysis by McKinsey & Company found that globally 48% of plug-in electric vehicles are purchased in China, 35% in the European Union, and 15% in the U.S. The 2020 report by the American Security Project concludes that China’s electric-vehicle strategy has invested far more than the U.S. in electric vehicle infrastructure by installing thousands of charging stations per month. In contrast, the U.S. strategy has focused on technological innovation to build better electric vehicles.


8. POWER

ASCE ESTIMATES

C-

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$19.7B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC

Learn More about POWER


Power Grid Infrastructure

Our power grid delivers the electricity that is essential to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and other essential services. ASCE gives our energy infrastructure a C-, up from a D in 2017. ASCE estimates that $19.7 billion per year in new spending would be needed to get our electrical grid to a B. Baseline levels of federal spending on our power infrastructure have not been provided.

President Biden, the Common Sense Coalition, and the Problem Solvers Caucus all agree that we should invest significantly more in our electric grid. Senate Republicans propose no new funding.

The White House proposed $4.2 billion in new federal spending each year, which is 21% of the ASCE estimated need. At $14.6 billion, CSC proposes by far the biggest investment in our electric grid. CSC’s plan would cover 74% of the estimated need. President Biden now supports CSC’s bigger investment. PSC proposes $3.1 billion in new spending per year, which is 16% of the ASCE estimated need.

The Case for a Big Investment

Severe winter storms in February 2021 caused outages that left more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses without power in the biting cold. Supporters suggest that the Texas experience highlights one of three main reasons our electric grid needs a major upgrade. It is not nearly resilient enough, they argue, to withstand extreme weather when that power is needed most.

A second reason given for investing substantially more in our grid is that it is also too susceptible to terrorist attack. As our connected world becomes increasingly dependent on reliable power, some argue, an aging electrical grid in mediocre condition is a soft target for those who would do us harm.

Third, supporters argue that a smart and efficient electric grid is critical to moving the country toward green energy and lower power bills. Often power sources like wind and solar are far from population centers. A modern grid, supporters argue, will more efficiently move cleaner electricity to where it is needed. Because it lowers the cost of electricity, they argue, it will also reduce Americans’ power bills. Building out the new power grid will put many Americans to work in good jobs, proponents argue. Supporters argue that beyond that, clean and affordable energy will power American productivity across our economy.

The Case for No New Investment

Opponents, including Senate Republicans, point to the meaningful improvement from a D in 2017 to a C- in 2021 as evidence that new federal spending on the electrical grid is not needed for it to improve. They also argue that the costs of power outages do not justify the level of investment proposed by the other three plans.

The Evidence

ASCE cites a slight decrease in power outages over the last four years as part of the evidence leading to the better grade for the electrical grid in 2021. ASCE also issued a 2020 Failure to Act report specifically on our electric infrastructure. As American life and its economy is increasingly wired and dependent on electricity, it found that the costs of outages are increasing. ASCE estimated that each power outage costs a household an average of $6.68 from losses such as damaged electronics and spoiled food. The report also found that the cost of power outages is disproportionately borne by businesses. ASCE estimated the impacts to the economy overall from business costs results in a loss of $13 of disposable income per household each year. ASCE cited a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study finding that from 2014 – 2018 there were four cyber-attacks on some part of the U.S. electric grid, none of which were successful in causing a power outage.


9. RECONNECTING COMMUNITIES

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a

Learn More about RECONNECTING COMMUNITIES


Reconnecting Communities

Today’s interstate freeways and other infrastructure projects within urban areas were usually built through existing communities to make them cost effective even though they cut the community on either side off from each other.

President Biden proposed $2.5 billion per year in new investments to reconnect communities divided by past infrastructure projects. The Common Sense Coalition, now with President Biden’s support, proposes $200 million per year. The Problem Solver Caucus calls for $1.3 billion per year.

The Case for a Big Investment

President Biden argues that when discussing new infrastructure investments, we cannot ignore that past infrastructure projects have been unfair. The communities divided by highway projects in the name of cost-efficiency and convenience for everyone else, the President observes, have disproportionately been communities of color and lower-income communities. The White House argues that we should address those past injustices by investing in reconnecting divided communities. We should also promote rather than diminish racial and economic justice, the Biden Administration argues, with new infrastructure projects. In the process, supporters argue, we can create more jobs.

The Case Against

Not infrastructure.

The Evidence

A recent Urban Institute report summarizes how the decisions about where to locate interstate highways and other roads have disproportionately imposed the negative impacts on working class communities and communities of color.


10. RESILIENCE

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a

Learn More about RESILIENCE


ResiliencePresident Biden’s plan proposed $5 billion in new funding per year for building the country’s resilience to extreme weather and climate-related disasters. The American Jobs Plan identified three sub-categories of resilience work but did not specify how much of the $5 billion each would get. First, a portion of the new funds would go to building the resilience of what everyone would agree is physical infrastructure. For example, the plan would invest in making our electric grid, roads, and rails more robust to extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Each of the remaining two resilience sub-categories in the American Jobs Plan expanded the usual definition of infrastructure. The second sub-category would invest in making food systems as well as community health and hospitals more robust and in rebuilding homes and business structures above existing codes and standards after they have been destroyed or damaged, for example, by a hurricane, fire, or flood. The third resilience sub-category in the American Jobs Plan would invest in restoring lands, forests, wetlands, watersheds, and coastal and ocean resources. These investments in the natural environment would include protection against extreme fires, sea-level rise, and hurricanes.

At $9.4 billion per year, the Common Sense Coalition, now with President Biden’s support, proposes significantly more resilience funding than the American Jobs Plan. It does not break out subcategories for that investment. PSC proposes $5.6 billion for “resiliency and nature-based infrastructure.”

Senate Republicans call for investing in the resilience of our infrastructure to extreme weather and rising ocean levels with the new spending they propose in the categories discussed above. They do not consider the rest of the resilience investments proposed in the other plans to be infrastructure.

The Case for a Big Investment

Supporters argue that the failure to invest adequately in the resilience of our transportation infrastructure has disrupted service and made travel unsafe. Insufficient resilience funding has also resulted, they argue, in severe damage to our transportation infrastructure which has led to increased maintenance and operating costs. President Biden argues that we must “make our infrastructure more resilient in the face of increasingly severe floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and other risks.” The Common Sense Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus agree.

Supporters also argue that people of color and working class individuals are more likely to live in areas prone to extreme weather impacts like flooding. By focusing the new resilience investments in these vulnerable communities, they argue, we can address this fundamental unfairness while also creating jobs.

The Case Against

Not infrastructure.

The Evidence

A 2017 General Accounting Office report found that extreme weather and fire events have cost the federal government an average of $35 billion per year over the previous ten years, $2.8 billion (8%) of which per year was for “maintenance and repairs to federal facilities and federally managed lands, infrastructure, and waterways.”


11. ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a

Learn More about ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION


Environmental RemediationThe American Jobs plan would invest $5.6 billion, the CSC, now with President Biden’s support, would invest $4.2 billion, and the PSC would invest $5.8 billion per year in new funding for environmental remediation of several kinds. For example, all three would invest in capping old oil and gas wells and restoring and reclaiming abandoned mines. They would provide funding to remediate and redevelop former industrial and energy sites that are now idle.

All three plans also include investments in next generation industries within this broad category. For example, projects would include retrofitting old facilities to reduce carbon emissions by converting some of those emissions into decarbonized hydrogen that can be used for power generation, industrial heating, or as an industrial feedstock. Other projects would include retrofitting large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities to demonstrate effective carbon capture methods.

The Case for a Big Investment

The environmental remediation projects described in the American Jobs Plan are included in the same section that proposes investments in the electric grid and moving further toward alternative energy sources. The White House notes that moving the nation’s energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels to cleaner, greener energy will disrupt communities reliant on fossil fuel industries. Supporters argue that it makes sense to pair the investments in cleaner energy with investments that will create good new jobs in those communities while also remediating the environmental impacts of our older energy sources and industries.

The Case Against

Not infrastructure.

The Evidence

A 2020 joint study by Resources for the Future and Columbia University reported that there is a known inventory of 56,600 orphaned oil and gas wells (meaning no owner can be found). The study estimated that it would take $1.4 – $2.7 billion to plug and stop the pollution which often includes leaking greenhouse gases. The study also estimated that there are as many as 500,000 not yet specifically inventoried wells and plugging all of them would cost $12 – $24 billion. A 2020 General Accounting Office report identified that about 67,000 abandoned hardrock mine features pose or may pose physical safety hazards and about 22,500 that pose or may pose environmental hazards.



Arguments For and Against

We start with the case for and against a large and broad infrastructure package before turning to the specific categories of proposed new spending and proposals for how to pay for it.

The Case For a Big Infrastructure Package

President Biden offered three main reasons to spend $170 billion more per year to address what he believes to be woeful inadequacies in our infrastructure, broadly defined to include physical and human infrastructure. The White House made their first and most important reason for bold infrastructure legislation clear by naming their proposal the American Jobs Plan. Not only would the infrastructure work itself directly create tens-of-thousands of jobs, but the Biden Administration also argues that significantly improving our infrastructure would make the economy more efficient and productive. Those economic benefits, the President argues, would create more jobs beyond those directly involved in building or repairing infrastructure. Some supporters of the American Jobs Plan argue that the economic benefits are more than enough to pay for the investment. Particularly given the COVID-19 economic crisis, President Biden argues, more good jobs for the American people is by far the most important consideration. He suggests that many of the arguments against a bold infrastructure package pale in comparison to what it could do for putting Americans to work.

The President’s second reason for a big package is that the poor condition of our infrastructure is unacceptable because it causes injury, sickness, and death. For example, the American Jobs Plan would invest $11 billion each year to replace 100% of the lead pipes still delivering water to more than six million American homes. Another example is the $2 billion per year in the President’s plan to improve road safety.

Third, the White House suggests that smart investments in infrastructure broadly defined will help address climate change. Reduced time spent idling in traffic; better public transit; a smarter, more efficient electrical grid; and electric vehicle charging stations are all examples of how infrastructure, traditionally defined, can be part of the nation’s answer to climate change that the White House offers. The President argues that a more expansive view of infrastructure that includes measures like plugging abandoned oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mines will do even more to address climate change.

The Biden administration argues that three additional considerations make the job, safety, and environmental benefits of a bold infrastructure investment even more compelling. First, President Biden’s argument goes beyond the impact that the current poor condition of our infrastructure is having today. The White House also argues that at today’s funding levels our infrastructure is further eroding each year. If we do not act boldly, the President argues, the impacts will become even more severe over time.

Second, President Biden observes that our infrastructure’s inadequacies are borne disproportionately by those least in a position to endure them including families of color and lower income families. The Biden administration observes that many wealthy Americans prospered while the rest of the country felt the brunt of the economic pain that the pandemic inflicted on the country. Now more than ever, President Biden argues, improving our poor infrastructure is an appropriate way to address fundamental economic and social unfairness. The President argues that a bold new infrastructure package can help us turn the page on the past, when poor infrastructure was a cause of social injustice, to a brighter new chapter in which it is the means of advancing social justice.

Third, President Biden argued that we should not limit the ambition of what we can achieve by restricting ourselves to an overly narrow definition of infrastructure. The administration argues that by wisely integrating investments in standard physical infrastructure projects with investments in our human infrastructure we can generate even greater benefits than if we consider those investments separately. The White House argues that quibbling about whether something fits the conventional definition of infrastructure should take a back seat to the compelling opportunities before us at a time of deep economic need. The Biden Administration suggests that creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans while also protecting their health and safety and addressing climate change should be ample justification for an expansive view of infrastructure. This is particularly true, the White House argues, if it also addresses core causes of social injustice.

The Case For a Smaller Infrastructure Package

Most congressional Republicans agree that a significant increase in infrastructure spending is warranted. They argue, however, that the President’s $170 billion in new infrastructure spending each year was excessive. Senate Republicans argue that the $37.2 billion of new spending per year is still an historic level of increased infrastructure investment. Their significant but not excessive investment will better serve the American people, Republicans argue, for seven main reasons.

First, they argue that the state of our current infrastructure is not bad enough to significantly constrain economic productivity. As investments in infrastructure increase, some Republicans argue, the economic benefit for each additional dollar invested goes down. Each new funded project, some observe, will be further down the infrastructure project lists which are prioritized, in part, by the economic benefits they produce.

Second, opponents of the American Jobs Plan argue that the $170 billion per year is particularly excessive given the more than $6 trillion the federal government has recently invested in COVID relief and Biden’s proposal for an additional $1.8 trillion investment in childcare, education, and paid leave. Altogether, that would mean more than $9.5 trillion in new spending since the pandemic struck in early 2020. To put the spending in perspective, opponents point out that $9.5 trillion amounts to $74,000 in new spending per household. Republicans argue that the increases in taxes on the wealthy and corporations will not cover the proposed new infrastructure spending, in addition to all the other recently passed and proposed new spending. Taxes on the middle class will have to go up, or we will have to saddle the next generation of Americans with more federal debt, or both. Republicans suggest that even if the tax burden is carried disproportionately by corporations and the wealthy, government spending with particularly poor returns will create fewer jobs for the American people than the private investment that would happen without those taxes.

Third, opponents make a similar argument about diminishing returns in terms of health and safety. They observe that the billions currently invested in infrastructure every year are already prioritized not only by economic benefits, but also by safety risks. As with economic benefits, opponents argue, an excessive increase in infrastructure spending will push us into projects with marginal improvements in health and safety relative to the costs.

Fourth, some opponents of the President’s plan are dubious that climate change poses the level of risk claimed. Even more are doubtful that the environmental benefits would be worth the costs of President Biden’s plan.

Fifth, Senate Republicans argue that their plan is adequate because even without the $37.2 billion per year in new infrastructure spending that they propose, the condition of American infrastructure is not getting worse over time. They note that dire warnings about the consequences of inadequate federal funding have been issued for decades. If anything, some opponents of the American Jobs Plan argue, the mediocre condition of our infrastructure is actually getting better even at current levels of federal funding.

Sixth, Republicans argue that the cumbersome and lengthy processes for obtaining permits for infrastructure projects mean that the significant and rapid increases in funding proposed by President Biden can’t actually be put to use for years. State and local governments have not been doing the extensive work to plan and then permit projects for which they have not expected to have funding. It often takes five years, and sometimes ten, to complete the permitting process alone once sufficient planning has been done. Some Republicans argue that on the point of having shovel ready projects the bipartisan deal struck by President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition may actually be worse than the American Jobs Plan. They observe that two differences increase the challenge. First, the bipartisan framework spends the total proposed money twice as fast (five years rather than ten years). Second, while the bipartisan plan proposes significantly less new spending overall, it concentrates that spending on fewer categories of physical infrastructure where projects must be planned and then run the permitting process gauntlet. Some Republicans argue that many of the intended new infrastructure projects will not even have their permit to start work within five years.

Finally, most Republicans suggest that whatever the arguments for and against investments that do not fit standard definitions of infrastructure, they should be considered in different legislation. They point out that the word infrastructure has long been understood to mean physical facilities that are broadly accessible to the public to support the efficient functioning of households, businesses, and other entities. This understanding of the term has long included roads, bridges, ports, and inland waterways. Defined this way, the term has easily accommodated advances in technology to include, for example, the infrastructure needed for high-speed access to the internet. However, they argue that expanding infrastructure to include providing seniors and those with disabilities with better access to quality care will make the word meaningless. Many Republicans acknowledge that on this point, the bipartisan framework negotiated by President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition is a meaningful improvement on the American Jobs Plan.

The Evidence

Before reviewing evidence specific to the 11 different categories of investment, we consider in this section the best available evidence on the current condition of American infrastructure overall and the trendline. We also review evidence on how much new funding would be needed to improve the current condition.

As noted above, the ASCE 2021 Report Card confirms the bipartisan consensus and most Americans’ everyday experience that our infrastructure is in mediocre condition. The 169-page ASCE report, citing dozens of other studies, gives American infrastructure an overall grade of C-.

Although confirming that the condition of our infrastructure is not impressive, the evidence from the ASCE Report Cards also indicates that, if anything, our infrastructure is improving slightly with current levels of federal funding. As seen in Figure 2, the 2021 grade of C- is not only better than the D+ in 2017, it is also the highest ASCE grade in over 20 years.

Figure 2: ASCE Infrastructure Grades

Click the crossed out category in the legend below to make visible that category’s grades over time.

To raise the 2021 grade of C- to a B, the ASCE 2021 Report Card concludes that a total of $2.51 trillion in additional investment beyond existing funding from all sources—including state and local—would be needed over the next ten years (not including hazardous and solid waste or public parks and recreation which are not included in any of the proposals). As seen in Figure 1, the ASCE estimate of funding needed to raise American infrastructure’s grade to a B works out to an average of $251 billion in new funding per year from federal, state, and local sources. The $170 billion in new spending each year in the American Jobs Plan would provide 68% of new funding needed to raise American infrastructure to a grade of B. However, it should be noted that the American Jobs Plan includes many significant investments in items the ASCE does not include as infrastructure. The $37.2 billion per year Senate Republican proposal would provide 15% of the new funding needed. The $115.8 billion Common Sense Coalition (CSC) plan that President Biden now supports would fund 46% of the need. The $77.3 billion per year Problem Solvers Caucus (PSC) plan would provide 31% of the new funding needed.

The Brookings Institute estimates that about three-quarters of U.S. public infrastructure funding currently comes from the state and local level. If the same 25% federal proportion were maintained, that would mean about $65 billion in additional federal spending per year would be needed for the federal share of improving American infrastructure to a grade of B. The Biden Plan would be 260% of the historic federal proportion of new funding needed to raise American infrastructure from a C- to a B. The Republican Plan is 58%, the CSC plan that President Biden now supports is 178%, and the PSC plan is 119% of the historic federal proportion needed. In other words, under the American Jobs Plan and the CSC plan that Biden now supports, the responsibility for improving American infrastructure would move significantly away from state and local governments to the federal government. Under the Senate Republican plan, responsibility would need to shift significantly to state and local governments if the country is to spend the total amount that ASCE estimates is needed to get our infrastructure to a B. The PSC plan represents a slight increase in the federal share.

Relative to the baseline of federal spending, President Biden’s Plan represents a 216% increase, as seen in Figure 1. The Senate Republican plan would be a 48% increase, the Common Sense Coalition plan supported by President Biden would be a 147% increase, and the Problem Solvers Caucus plan would be a 98% increase over expected federal baseline funding.

The ASCE also issued a 2021 Failure to Act report. It assesses the economic costs of not investing enough to take our infrastructure to a grade of B. Those costs come in the form of factors like unreliable and congested transportation and unreliable water and power. The Failure to Act report concludes that spending the money to take our infrastructure to a grade of B would boost the economy enough that each American household would have an average of $14,600 more disposable income over the next ten years, or $1,460 per year.

The ASCE assessment that improving our infrastructure to a B would generate $1,460 in economic benefits per year per household provides a way to judge the claim of some that infrastructure investments more than pay for themselves. With about 130 million households in the country, the per household cost of spending an additional $260 billion per year (from all sources, including federal, state, and local) to move to a grade of B would be about $2,000 dollars per household. That means that $1,460, or nearly 75%, of the $2,000 increased cost per household of new infrastructure spending would pay for itself through increased economic productivity. That leaves an average of $540 per household per year, or about 25% of the increased spending, that would not pay for itself. Instead, it would be covered by more taxes not offset by increased disposable income. President Biden argues that by placing the tax burden on wealthy corporations who have been doing very well, the net economic effect will be positive for the vast majority of Americans. It is only fair, the White House argues, that the corporations who have significantly benefited from the publicly financed infrastructure that supports the American economy pay more for it.

As some opponents of the American Jobs Plan point out, dire warnings have been issued by ASCE and government agencies for decades that the failure of the federal government to invest more in infrastructure would cause infrastructure conditions to erode. Those issuing the warnings have felt the need to explain how it is that infrastructure conditions are actually improving without the substantial increases in federal spending that have been called for. Part of the explanation offered by ASCE and others is the innovation in cost-effective new materials and designs. Another part of the explanation is smarter asset management programs. Drawing on increasingly sophisticated financial and engineering tools, the state and local agencies who spend most of the infrastructure money, including federal dollars, target their limited funding where it will get the biggest economic and safety benefit for the dollars spent. State and local jurisdictions create a rank order of infrastructure projects from the most to the least cost effective. They then move as far down the list as their funding will take them.

Opponents of a significant increase in infrastructure spending like the President’s point out that increases in funding simply mean moving further down the list of cost-effective projects. The result, they observe, is that the average economic and environmental benefit from infrastructure spending declines as spending goes up significantly.

Some also note that estimates of infrastructure funding needs tend to be high because of self-interest. The Association of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is made up of professionals who would benefit from increased infrastructure spending. The budgets of the government agencies who provide the data and conduct many of the studies cited also benefit from increased spending.


Specific Categories of Possible Investment

We now turn to the arguments for and against bold new infrastructure spending in each of 11 categories roughly in order of most to least bipartisan support.

Surface Transportation
1

Surface Transportation

ANNUAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

$122B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC
Infrastructure

When most people think of infrastructure, they think first of roads and bridges. The passenger and freight rail system and public transit are also important categories of surface transportation. We will consider surface transportation first as a whole and then examine each of three sub-categories.

The ASCE 2021 Report Card estimates that we need $122 billion per year in total new funding (including state and local) to raise the condition of our surface transportation to a B grade. President Biden’s plan would add $30.4 billion per year, which is 25% of the new funding needed and a 44% increase in federal baseline spending. The Senate Republicans’ plan would add $15.5 billion per year, which is 13% of the new funding needed and a 23% increase in federal funding. The Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports proposes $47.1 billion in new funding, which is 39% of the need and a 69% increase in federal funding. The Problem Solvers’ plan proposes $38.7 billion, providing 32% of the need and a 57% increase in federal funding per year.


Roads & Bridges
1a

Roads & Bridges

ANNUAL ROADS & BRIDGES FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES ROADS

D

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

ASCE ESTIMATES BRIDGES

C

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Down

Trend - Slightly Down

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for Roads & Bridges. It is included in the total need for Surface Transportation.

Roads and Bridges

The ASCE 2021 Report Card gives our roads a D grade, the same grade they earned in 2017. The nation’s bridges got a grade of C in 2021, down from a C+ in 2017. ASCE does not provide an estimate of what it would take to increase the grade of our roads and bridges to a B separate from the overall surface transportation category.

Investing in improved roads and bridges is one of the areas of greatest agreement between President Biden and Senate Republicans. Though President Biden was initially calling for substantially more than Senate Republicans, he adjusted to propose close to the same amount. President Biden’s revised American Jobs Plan proposed $13.9 billion in new spending per year and Senate Republicans propose $13.7 billion. President Biden’s plan represented a 27% increase in federal baseline funding and the Senate Republicans’ plan is a 26% increase. At $24.2 billion, the CSC plan that President Biden now supports would increase federal funding by 46%, the most of the four plans. At $20.6 billion, the PSC plan is the second most proposed and a 39% increase in federal spending.

The Case for a Big Investment

Supporters argue that a significant increase in road and bridges funding attracts such broad, bipartisan consensus because no other category of infrastructure more directly impacts Americans’ daily lives. Sitting in slow traffic is a major frustration experienced everyday by millions of Americans, supporters observe.

Beyond inconvenience, supporters argue, there is also broad consensus that the substandard condition of too many of our roads and bridges imposes unacceptable economic, safety, and environmental costs. Economically, roads and bridges in poor condition are costly in terms of delays caused by traffic congestion and extra repairs. In terms of safety, they argue, poor roads and bridges cause too many preventable injuries and deaths. In terms of the environment, longer travel times due to congestion also mean higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

There are some ranging from the very conservative to the very liberal who argue for more modest levels of road and bridge funding. First, they argue that most of the critical roads and bridges are in an acceptable condition and that the economic, safety, and environmental costs are often exaggerated. Increasing federal spending by more than 25%, they argue, only means that we will invest in roads and bridges further down the cost/benefit ratio priority list.

Second, supporters of a more modest increase observe that expanding their capacity does little in the long run to address the traffic congestion problem. They cite the common experience in which highway expansion only initially results in less congestion and shorter commute times. Over time, those shorter commute times make living farther out from the urban centers more feasible. Consequently, more and cheaper housing is built farther out from cities creating the congestion problem all over again. We will never get ahead of the curve, they argue, by simply expanding road capacity.

Third, some point out that we came to more fully appreciate the advantages of remote work during the pandemic. By not driving our cars to work, some argue, we not only save time and money, but we also reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by car accidents and reduce carbon emissions. Supporters of a more modest infrastructure investment argue that we do not yet know how much the experience with remote work will decrease the congestion and wear and tear on America’s roads long term. Now, they argue, is not the time for a major increase in roads funding.

The Evidence

ASCE finds that 43% of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, a number that has stayed steady for many years. The vast majority of those roads in poor and mediocre condition are more minor roads, with most interstate freeways in good or excellent condition. ASCE reports that 7.5% of the nation’s bridges are designated structurally deficient, an improvement from 12.1% a decade ago.

ASCE also finds that 30% of the trips in the United States are impacted by severe or extreme traffic congestion, causing an extra 8.8 billion hours in travel time and burning an extra 3.3 billion gallons of fuel. Roads in sub-standard condition also cause nearly $130 billion per year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Nevertheless, ASCE acknowledges that the evidence shows how elusive it is to reduce congestion impacts by spending more on our roads. In part, this is because of “induced demand,” the technical term for the common effect observed that decreasing congestion by investing in increased road capacity is often ineffective because it leads to greater housing development farther out from cities. In its 2021 Report Card, ASCE said:

“However, as every lane-mile of road costs approximately $24,000 annually in operation and maintenance, roadway expansion can be more costly and less efficient than operational changes. In fact, in many cases, roadway expansion can lead to induced demand and further sprawl.”

The ASCE figure of $24,000 in annual operation and maintenance costs for every lane-mile does not include the much higher upfront capital costs of building new lanes in the first place.


Freight and Passenger Rail
1b

Passenger & Freight Rail

ANNUAL PASSENGER & FREIGHT RAIL FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

B

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for Passenger & Freight Rail. It is included in the total need for Surface Transportation.

Passenger & Freight Rail

The rail system that carries both passengers and freight in our country earns a grade of B. That is the second highest grade ASCE gave in 2021 and the same grade the rail system got in 2017. Since ASCE’s estimates for new funding need are based on what it would take to achieve a B, no additional spending is needed to achieve that for rail.

Nevertheless, all four new spending plans include percentage increases that are the largest of all categories. The White House plan proposed $8 billion in additional spending each year, a 267% increase in federal funding. Senate Republicans call for $2.8 billion in new spending on our rail system. At 92%, it is the single biggest increase in federal infrastructure spending proposed by Senate Republicans. The Common Sense Coalition proposal that President Biden now supports includes $13.2 billion, a 440% increase in federal funding. The Problem Solvers’ plan for $12 billion in new spending is a 400% increase.

The Case for a Big Investment

The far greater energy efficiency of rail compared to roads in transporting people and goods is a major reason offered by supporters for a particularly large increase in federal spending on rail. Supporters also point out that passenger rail, particularly in the Northeast Corridor, is subject to many costly and frustrating delays due to the inferior condition of the rail infrastructure. Reducing those delays, they argue, would increase ridership and help reduce the traffic delays on the northeast’s crowded highways.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Both Republicans and Democrats who argue for a more modest investment in rail emphasize ASCE’s finding that the country’s rail system has already achieved the target B grade and is in better condition than almost all other categories of infrastructure. Because its condition has been good and steady at current levels of federal funding, opponents argue that even the Republican proposal to nearly double the level of federal funding for rail is simply not justified. They argue that much larger increases in the other three plans are even less justified.

The Evidence

The Federal Railroad Administration found that rail is 1.9 to 5.5 times more fuel efficient than trucks for transporting goods, depending on route and distances. ASCE also reported 328,000 train-delay minutes (about 5,467 hours) per year within the Northeast Rail Corridor due to infrastructure-related issues.


Public Transit
1c

Public Transit

ANNUAL PUBLIC TRANSIT FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

D-

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for Public Transit. It is included in the total need for Surface Transportation.

Public Transit

ASCE gave our public transit system a D- in 2021, the same grade that it got in 2017.

Here, the difference between the White House and Senate Republicans is especially large. The Biden Administration’s plan included $8.5 billion annually in new funding for public transit, a 64% increase in federal funding. The Senate Republicans’ plan would actually reduce current funding by $1 billion, an 8% decrease in current federal funding. The CSC proposal that President Biden now backs would spend $9.7 billion, a 73% increase in federal funding. The Problem Solvers’ proposal to spend $6.2 is a 47% increase.

The Case for a Big Investment

Public transit supporters argue that it provides an effective solution to the congestion problem. Unlike traveling by personal cars, public transit becomes more cost efficient with higher levels of ridership. Because it avoids the induced demand problem, they argue, it is a real congestion solution. In addition, proponents argue that public transit emits fewer greenhouse gases and provides transportation essential to those who cannot afford their own car.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Even before the pandemic, many Republicans argue, people were voting with their feet and ridership on public transit was declining. With the experience of the many advantages of remote work and greater concern about communicable diseases since the pandemic, opponents suggest now is not the time for significant increases in public transit investment.

The Evidence

ASCE reports that 19% of transit vehicles and 6% of tracks and tunnels are in “poor” condition. About 45% of Americans do not have access to public transit. The total number of public transit trips peaked in 2014 and had declined by 8% prior to the pandemic. Nearly 50% of public transit trips are by bus.


Broadband Infrastructure
2

Broadband

ANNUAL BROADBAND FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a
Broadband Infrastructure

The newest form of physical infrastructure we consider also attracts strong bipartisan support for new investments. Democrats and Republicans agree that the accessibility of high-speed internet connections for homes and businesses is increasingly important. Because both rural areas and lower income urban areas are underserved, broadband tends to bridge the usual partisan divides.

The country’s broadband infrastructure made it into the ASCE Report Card for the first time in 2021. Because the category is so new they did not have the same metrics and comparisons as they do for other kinds of infrastructure. Consequently, they did not give it a grade or estimate how much more funding is needed. The report concluded that “American’s reliance on fast internet is only forecasted to grow in coming years.”

President Biden and Senate Republicans not only agree that broadband deserves significant new funding, they also now agree on just how much more. The American Jobs Plan originally called for $10 billion in new broadband spending per year but reduced it to $8.1 billion to match Senate Republicans’ plan. Because the Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports calls for spending the same total amount over the shorter five year time period, that plan works out to $13 billion each year in new broadband funding. The Problem Solvers Caucus calls for $5.6 billion per year in new spending.

The Case for a Big Investment

While the pandemic has created questions about whether demand for various types of transportation infrastructure will be reduced long-term by our experience with remote work, it highlighted for Democrats and Republicans alike how critical the infrastructure is that provides high-speed internet connections. Even before the pandemic, the importance of broadband was increasing rapidly, they observe. Economically, broadband provides access to the increasingly wide range of opportunities for remote work and can make the difference in businesses’ decisions about where to locate. Broadband was also already providing access to an exploding range of remote learning resources, supporters note. Increasingly, broadband has been facilitating access to healthcare delivery, including through telemedicine. The pandemic significantly accelerated all these developments, advocates observe.

Supporters argue that investing significantly more in high-speed internet connectivity today is akin to investing in rural electrification in the 1930’s or the interstate highway system in the 1950’s. Proponents argue that this investment will fundamentally make our economy and society more efficient and effective.

Supporters also argue that significant new investments in broadband will help our nation live up to its ideal of equal opportunity for all by powerfully addressing economic, educational, and health inequities. Underserved communities are found in both rural and distressed urban areas. Access to greater economic and educational opportunities, and to healthcare, are most profoundly needed in these areas of our country, supporters argue.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Some argue that the free market has already provided high-speed internet connections everywhere that it is cost-effective to do so. Where that investment would make a strong economic return, public utilities and other for-profit companies have already built out the necessary infrastructure. Extending broadband where it currently is not available, opponents argue, will be prohibitively expensive and bring benefits to fewer people.

The Evidence

The National Association of Counties (NACo) found that in 2020 65% of counties had average connection speeds slower than the definition of broadband. NACo found that slow connections were particularly common in less populated counties. According to the Center for Public Integrity, households with incomes over $80,700 are five times more likely to have access to broadband than households with less than $34,800 in income.


Water Infrastructure
3

Water Infrastructure

ANNUAL WATER INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

C-

Current Grade

Trending Up

Trend - Up

?

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

ASCE does not break out amount needed for water.  It is included with the total amount along with wastewater and stormwater.

Water Infrastructure

The systems that convey water to our homes and businesses make up a fundamental category of infrastructure. In 2021, ASCE gave the nation’s water infrastructure a C-, up from the D it got in 2017. ASCE did not provide an estimate of how much new funding would be needed to improve the condition of our water infrastructure to a B separate from its estimate of $43.4 billion needed for drinking water along with wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The infrastructure that brings water to American homes and businesses gets among the highest proposed increases in federal funding in all four infrastructure plans. The American Jobs Plan has the largest proposal with $11.1 billion per year in new water infrastructure spending, a 370% increase. The Republican plan calls for $6 billion, a 200% increase in federal baseline spending. The CSC framework that President Biden now supports proposes $11 billion, a 368% increase. The PSC plan proposes $4.5 billion, a 150% increase.

The Case for a Big Investment

Democratic and Republican proponents of a major increase in spending on our water infrastructure particularly emphasize the need to eliminate lead pipes. Given the known significant health risks, there is wide agreement that the number of homes and businesses that get their water through lead pipes remains alarmingly and unacceptably high. Proponents also argue that the number of water main breaks is too high and getting higher.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Those who argue for a more modest investment in our water infrastructure point out that it is already improving without more investment, increasing from a D in 2017 to a C- in 2021.

The Evidence

The EPA reports an estimated six to ten million homes still receive drinking water through lead pipes and service lines. The ASCE cites a report that there were an estimated 250,000 – 300,000 water main breaks in 2018, a 27% increase from 2012.


Airport
4

Airports

ANNUAL AIRPORT FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

D+

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$11.1B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC
Airports

ASCE gave the nation’s airports a grade of D+ in 2021, up from a D in 2017. ASCE estimates that $11.1 billion more per year is needed to bring airports up to a B.

President Biden’s American Jobs Plan includes $2.5 billion in new federal airports funding per year, covering 23% of the ASCE-estimated new funding need and representing a 66% increase in federal funding. At $3.2 billion, the Senate Republican plan actually calls for more. The Senate Republican plan is 29% of the additional funding need estimated by ASCE and an 84% increase in current federal funding. The Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports proposes $5 billion, an investment that would cover 45% of the need and would increase federal funding by 132%. At $1.3 billion, the Problem Solvers propose the smallest airport investment, an investment that would cover 12% of the estimated need and increase federal funding 35%.

The Case for a Big Investment

Air travel, proponents argue, is critical to robust commerce both domestically and internationally. Air travel delays are excessive, they argue, and enormously disruptive for both business and personal travel. We need to invest in greater airport capacity if we are to reduce travel delays.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Like other forms of transportation, proponents of a smaller increase in airport infrastructure argue that the demand for air travel may see a long-term reduction because of the pandemic. Even more than travel by personal car, rail, or public transit, some argue, the pandemic demonstrated how costly business air travel is. A video conference meeting, they point out, saves significant time and expense and leaves a far smaller carbon footprint. Before investing significantly in increased air travel capacity, they argue, we should first see what demand after the pandemic will be.

The Evidence

ASCE’s 2021 report card cited the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) findings that two core measures of airport infrastructure conditions were nearly unchanged. The “on-time” flights decreased slightly from 80.1% in 2017 to 79.2% in 2019. ASCE suggested that the slight on-time flight decrease was due to growth in passenger travel without a corresponding number of available flights. ASCE acknowledges that the post-pandemic demand picture is unclear. NPIAS also reports that over the same time the percentage of runways in excellent, good, or fair condition increased slightly from 97.8% to 97.9%. Given the significant reduction in flights during the pandemic, the wear and tear on runways has been less since 2019.


Ports & Waterways
5

Ports & Water Ways

ANNUAL PORTS & WATER WAYS FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES PORTS

B+

Current Grade

Trending Up

Trend - Up

$0

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

ASCE ESTIMATES WATER WAYS

D+

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$2.5B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC
Ports and Waterways

American ports and inland waterways are another important way that we move goods in our country. ASCE gives our ports a B+, the highest grade that they gave any category of infrastructure. It is also one of the most rapidly improving categories, improving a full grade from the C+ they earned in 2017. The B+ is also beyond the ASCE target of a B for increased funding. On the other hand, our inland waterways infrastructure, much of which facilitates moving goods on the Mississippi and other major river systems, received a D+, up from a D in 2017. ASCE estimates that $2.5 billion per year is required to bring inland waterways up to a B.

The Biden Administration proposed $1.7 billion in new spending per year for both ports and inland waterways, which is 68% of the ASCE estimated need and a 94% increase in federal baseline funding. Senate Republicans call for $1 billion, which is 40% of the ASCE estimated need and a 56% increase in federal funding. CSC, now with President Biden’s support, calls for $3.3 billion, which is 130% of the need and a 181% increase in federal funding. PSC’s plan includes $1.5 billion, which is 58% of the estimated need and an 81% increase in federal funding.

The Case for a Big Investment

Democratic and Republican proponents observe that moving goods by water is more cost and energy efficient even than moving them by rail and much more cost effective than by truck.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Proponents for a smaller investment point to the ASCE grade of B+ for ports. With the highest grade of all categories of infrastructure evaluated and an improving grade, they argue, ports are simply an unwise place to significantly increase federal funding. While the ASCE grade of D+ for inland waterways indicates a greater need for investment, proponents of a more modest investment emphasize that their condition is improving at current levels of federal investment. Given these grades, they argue, even the Senate Republican’s call for a 56% increase in combined federal spending for ports and inland waterways is excessive. The other three plans are even more excessive, they argue.

The Evidence

A 2017 update of the report by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University found that it is 70 times more fuel efficient to move dry cargo by barge than by truck and 16 times more fuel efficient than by rail. ASCE reported that the tonnage at America’s top ports grew by 4.4% from 2015 to 2019.


Water Storage
6

Water Storage

ANNUAL WATER STORAGE FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

D

Current Grade

Trending Steady

Trend - Steady

$8.1B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC
Water Storage

Dams are built in all 50 states to store water. Dams are also built to control floods, generate hydroelectric power, irrigate, and provide recreation. The ASCE Report Card gives America’s dams a D, the same grade they received in 2017. ASCE estimates that $8.1 billion in new funding is needed each year for dams to get to a B.

President Biden and Republican Senators have now agreed that there is a need for new funding for water storage. President Biden called for $300 million in new federal funding per year, which is 4% of the ASCE estimated need and a 17% increase in federal funding. The Senate Republican plan and the Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports both include $1 billion in new funding, which is 12% of ASCE’s estimated need and a 56% increase in federal spending. The Problem Solvers Caucus proposes decreasing federal baseline spending by $100 million per year, a 3% reduction.

The Case for a Big Investment

Within the focus on water storage, the President, Senate Republicans, and the Common Sense Coalition have agreed that the need is particularly concentrated in the American West. The arid conditions typical of the west make water storage critical infrastructure for reliable access to water. They argue that a severe long-term drought, coupled with rapidly growing populations and an aging dam infrastructure, has made the issue of adequate, reliable water storage in the west even more crucial.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

As important as the need for reliable western water storage is, the Problem Solvers suggest that slightly less than current funding is sufficient to address the critical needs.

The Evidence

A 2020 update by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of its National Inventory of Dams cited in the ASCE report found that the number of dams with high potential for loss of life and property damage if they failed has doubled over the last 20 years. That is not because more dams have fallen into disrepair. Instead, it is because more homes and businesses are being built in areas that would be impacted by the failure of an existing dam.


Electric Vehicles
7

Electric Vehicles

ANNUAL WATER STORAGE FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

n/a

Current Grade

n/a

Trend

n/a

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

n/a

Electric VehiclesASCE’s report card does not include a separate infrastructure category or grade for electric vehicles, though it does mention electric vehicle charging stations in its assessment of the electric grid. A baseline of current federal spending on electric vehicles has also not been provided.

Senate Republicans did not include investments for electric-vehicle-related infrastructure in their original proposal but have now agreed they should be included. The Common Sense Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus also include it. Wide differences remain among the four plans, however, over what to include in the investment and how much to invest.

The American Jobs Plan proposed $17.4 billion in new spending per year for investments in electric vehicles, most of which is divided over three sub-categories. The first sub-category arguably fits the usual understanding that infrastructure includes physical systems built to be broadly available to the public and that help the economy function efficiently. It would provide $1.5 billion per year in grants and incentives for state and local governments to build a national infrastructure of 500,000 electric-vehicle chargers. The other two electric-vehicle sub-categories reflect a broader definition of infrastructure. President Biden proposed $10 billion in new spending per year for rebates and tax incentives to encourage the purchase of American-made electric vehicles. He also proposed $4.5 billion per year to replace diesel transit vehicles with electric ones and to electrify school buses.

The latest proposal by Senate Republicans calls for $0.5 billion per year for electric vehicle charging stations.

President Biden now supports CSC’s plan for $3 billion, half of which would be for charging stations and the other half would be for low and no carbon emission buses and ferries. PSC would invest $3.1 billion for both charging stations and electric buses.

The Case for a Big Investment

Electric vehicle supporters argue that the technologies both for alternative sources of electricity like solar and wind power as well as for plug-in electric vehicles themselves are improving rapidly. Those technological improvements, they argue, make it smart economically for the nation to move boldly toward electric vehicles. Leading the global market for electric vehicles can be a source of good middle-class jobs for decades to come, the White House suggests, just as U.S. leadership in gas and diesel cars and trucks have provided Americans with good jobs going back to the Ford Model T. 

Moving from gas and diesel to electric vehicles that are charged by alternative electricity sources, supporters argue, will also significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a major step in addressing the challenge of climate change.

The Case for a Smaller Investment

Senate Republicans agree that investment in a national infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations is appropriate for inclusion in an infrastructure package because it fits within the standard definition of the term. Many also agree that moving towards electric vehicles is smart economically and environmentally.

Senate Republicans argue, though, that it is wiser to move more slowly than the Biden Administration proposes, particularly given the massive increases in other federal spending.

Senate Republicans also suggest that the other two electric vehicle parts of the American Jobs Plan investments are both excessive in their amount of federal spending and beyond the definition of infrastructure. Opponents argue that whatever the merits of rebates and tax incentives for purchasing American-made electric vehicles and for electrifying transit vehicles and school buses, they are not for a debate about infrastructure.

The Evidence

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory study estimates the United States will need about 628,000 public chargers to accommodate 15 million electric vehicles by 2030. A 2021 analysis by McKinsey & Company found that globally 48% of plug-in electric vehicles are purchased in China, 35% in the European Union, and 15% in the U.S. The 2020 report by the American Security Project concludes that China’s electric-vehicle strategy has invested far more than the U.S. in electric vehicle infrastructure by installing thousands of charging stations per month. In contrast, the U.S. strategy has focused on technological innovation to build better electric vehicles.


Power
8

Power

ANNUAL POWER FUNDING

ASCE ESTIMATES

C-

Current Grade

Trending Slightly Up

Trend - Slightly Up

$19.7B

Funding needed to raise to a "B" Grade

PROPOSED ANNUAL INCREASE

% COVERED FOR AN ASCE "B" GRADE

  • Remaining need not covered by federal
  • Need covered by Biden
  • Need covered by GOP
  • Need covered by CSC
  • Need covered by PSC
Power Grid Infrastructure

Our power grid delivers the electricity that is essential to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and other essential services. ASCE gives our energy infrastructure a C-, up from a D in 2017. ASCE estimates that $19.7 billion per year in new spending would be needed to get our electrical grid to a B. Baseline levels of federal spending on our power infrastructure have not been provided.

President Biden, the Common Sense Coalition, and the Problem Solvers Caucus all agree that we should invest significantly more in our electric grid. Senate Republicans propose no new funding.

The White House proposed $4.2 billion in new federal spending each year, which is 21% of the ASCE estimated need. At $14.6 billion, CSC proposes by far the biggest investment in our electric grid. CSC’s plan would cover 74% of the estimated need. President Biden now supports CSC’s bigger investment. PSC proposes $3.1 billion in new spending per year, which is 16% of the ASCE estimated need.

The Case for a Big Investment

Severe winter storms in February 2021 caused outages that left more than 4.5 million Texas homes and businesses without power in the biting cold. Supporters suggest that the Texas experience highlights one of three main reasons our electric grid needs a major upgrade. It is not nearly resilient enough, they argue, to withstand extreme weather when that power is needed most.

A second reason given for investing substantially more in our grid is that it is also too susceptible to terrorist attack. As our connected world becomes increasingly dependent on reliable power, some argue, an aging electrical grid in mediocre condition is a soft target for those who would do us harm.

Third, supporters argue that a smart and efficient electric grid is critical to moving the country toward green energy and lower power bills. Often power sources like wind and solar are far from population centers. A modern grid, supporters argue, will more efficiently move cleaner electricity to where it is needed. Because it lowers the cost of electricity, they argue, it will also reduce Americans’ power bills. Building out the new power grid will put many Americans to work in good jobs, proponents argue. Supporters argue that beyond that, clean and affordable energy will power American productivity across our economy.

The Case for No New Investment

Opponents, including Senate Republicans, point to the meaningful improvement from a D in 2017 to a C- in 2021 as evidence that new federal spending on the electrical grid is not needed for it to improve. They also argue that the costs of power outages do not justify the level of investment proposed by the other three plans.

The Evidence

ASCE cites a slight decrease in power outages over the last four years as part of the evidence leading to the better grade for the electrical grid in 2021. ASCE also issued a 2020 Failure to Act report specifically on our electric infrastructure. As American life and its economy is increasingly wired and dependent on electricity, it found that the costs of outages are increasing. ASCE estimated that each power outage costs a household an average of $6.68 from losses such as damaged electronics and spoiled food. The report also found that the cost of power outages is disproportionately borne by businesses. ASCE estimated the impacts to the economy overall from business costs results in a loss of $13 of disposable income per household each year. ASCE cited a 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study finding that from 2014 – 2018 there were four cyber-attacks on some part of the U.S. electric grid, none of which were successful in causing a power outage.


Expansive Categories of Infrastructure

Each of the remaining three categories increasingly expand the idea of what infrastructure includes. The ASCE Report Card does not evaluate the condition of the remaining categories we consider, except for schools. Baseline federal spending levels have not been provided for these categories.

The debate about the rest of the categories reflects their broad take on infrastructure. While it would be fair to say that Senate Republicans generally favor smaller or no investments in each of the categories considered below, they have mostly not engaged on the merits of the investments one way or the other. Instead, their main argument is that they are not really infrastructure investments. Whatever the arguments for or against each, they argue that debate should be had separately from a debate about infrastructure. Accordingly, Senate Republicans have not proposed new funding in any of these categories.

We do not repeat these points in the remaining three categories. We simply note in each that opponents argue that they are not infrastructure so are investment questions for a different debate.

ReconnectingCommunities
9

Reconnecting Communities

ANNUAL POWER FUNDING

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Reconnecting Communities

Today’s interstate freeways and other infrastructure projects within urban areas were usually built through existing communities to make them cost effective even though they cut the community on either side off from each other.

President Biden proposed $2.5 billion per year in new investments to reconnect communities divided by past infrastructure projects. The Common Sense Coalition, now with President Biden’s support, proposes $200 million per year. The Problem Solver Caucus calls for $1.3 billion per year.

The Case for a Big Investment

President Biden argues that when discussing new infrastructure investments, we cannot ignore that past infrastructure projects have been unfair. The communities divided by highway projects in the name of cost-efficiency and convenience for everyone else, the President observes, have disproportionately been communities of color and lower-income communities. The White House argues that we should address those past injustices by investing in reconnecting divided communities. We should also promote rather than diminish racial and economic justice, the Biden Administration argues, with new infrastructure projects. In the process, supporters argue, we can create more jobs.

The Case Against

Not infrastructure.

The Evidence

A recent Urban Institute report summarizes how the decisions about where to locate interstate highways and other roads have disproportionately imposed the negative impacts on working class communities and communities of color.


Resilience
10

Resilience

ANNUAL RESILIENCE FUNDING

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ResiliencePresident Biden’s plan proposed $5 billion in new funding per year for building the country’s resilience to extreme weather and climate-related disasters. The American Jobs Plan identified three sub-categories of resilience work but did not specify how much of the $5 billion each would get. First, a portion of the new funds would go to building the resilience of what everyone would agree is physical infrastructure. For example, the plan would invest in making our electric grid, roads, and rails more robust to extreme weather and rising sea levels.

Each of the remaining two resilience sub-categories in the American Jobs Plan expanded the usual definition of infrastructure. The second sub-category would invest in making food systems as well as community health and hospitals more robust and in rebuilding homes and business structures above existing codes and standards after they have been destroyed or damaged, for example, by a hurricane, fire, or flood. The third resilience sub-category in the American Jobs Plan would invest in restoring lands, forests, wetlands, watersheds, and coastal and ocean resources. These investments in the natural environment would include protection against extreme fires, sea-level rise, and hurricanes.

At $9.4 billion per year, the Common Sense Coalition, now with President Biden’s support, proposes significantly more resilience funding than the American Jobs Plan. It does not break out subcategories for that investment. PSC proposes $5.6 billion for “resiliency and nature-based infrastructure.”

Senate Republicans call for investing in the resilience of our infrastructure to extreme weather and rising ocean levels with the new spending they propose in the categories discussed above. They do not consider the rest of the resilience investments proposed in the other plans to be infrastructure.

The Case for a Big Investment

Supporters argue that the failure to invest adequately in the resilience of our transportation infrastructure has disrupted service and made travel unsafe. Insufficient resilience funding has also resulted, they argue, in severe damage to our transportation infrastructure which has led to increased maintenance and operating costs. President Biden argues that we must “make our infrastructure more resilient in the face of increasingly severe floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and other risks.” The Common Sense Coalition and the Problem Solvers Caucus agree.

Supporters also argue that people of color and working class individuals are more likely to live in areas prone to extreme weather impacts like flooding. By focusing the new resilience investments in these vulnerable communities, they argue, we can address this fundamental unfairness while also creating jobs.

The Case Against

Not infrastructure.

The Evidence

A 2017 General Accounting Office report found that extreme weather and fire events have cost the federal government an average of $35 billion per year over the previous ten years, $2.8 billion (8%) of which per year was for “maintenance and repairs to federal facilities and federally managed lands, infrastructure, and waterways.”


Environmental Remediation
11

Environmental Remediation

ANNUAL ENVIRONMENTAL REMEDIATION FUNDING

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Environmental RemediationThe American Jobs plan would invest $5.6 billion, the CSC, now with President Biden’s support, would invest $4.2 billion, and the PSC would invest $5.8 billion per year in new funding for environmental remediation of several kinds. For example, all three would invest in capping old oil and gas wells and restoring and reclaiming abandoned mines. They would provide funding to remediate and redevelop former industrial and energy sites that are now idle.

All three plans also include investments in next generation industries within this broad category. For example, projects would include retrofitting old facilities to reduce carbon emissions by converting some of those emissions into decarbonized hydrogen that can be used for power generation, industrial heating, or as an industrial feedstock. Other projects would include retrofitting large steel, cement, and chemical production facilities to demonstrate effective carbon capture methods.

The Case for a Big Investment

The environmental remediation projects described in the American Jobs Plan are included in the same section that proposes investments in the electric grid and moving further toward alternative energy sources. The White House notes that moving the nation’s energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels to cleaner, greener energy will disrupt communities reliant on fossil fuel industries. Supporters argue that it makes sense to pair the investments in cleaner energy with investments that will create good new jobs in those communities while also remediating the environmental impacts of our older energy sources and industries.

The Case Against

Not infrastructure.

The Evidence

A 2020 joint study by Resources for the Future and Columbia University reported that there is a known inventory of 56,600 orphaned oil and gas wells (meaning no owner can be found). The study estimated that it would take $1.4 – $2.7 billion to plug and stop the pollution which often includes leaking greenhouse gases. The study also estimated that there are as many as 500,000 not yet specifically inventoried wells and plugging all of them would cost $12 – $24 billion. A 2020 General Accounting Office report identified that about 67,000 abandoned hardrock mine features pose or may pose physical safety hazards and about 22,500 that pose or may pose environmental hazards.


How to Pay For It

The brief to this point has provided information relevant to making an independent judgment about what to include in an infrastructure package and how much to spend on it. We now turn to the question of how to pay for increased infrastructure spending. Of course, the amount to be spent impacts the answer about how to pay for it. A much more ambitious plan is required to pay for the American Jobs Plan proposed $170 billion per year in new funding than for Senate Republicans’ proposed $37.7 billion per year.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework that was agreed to by President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition hues closely to the Common Sense Coalition’s plan on the spending side. Fewer details have been agreed to at this point on how to pay for the more modest investments. Many or all of the funding sources in President Biden’s plan that are not included in the bipartisan package will likely be included in the separate legislation that includes human infrastructure and the American Families Plan.

We first review two of the largest funding measures that have been agreed to as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. We then review President Biden’s proposals for how to pay for the American Jobs Plan that are not included in the bipartisan framework. Finally, we review the provisions of the Senate Republican’s funding framework not included in the bipartisan framework. Several of the plans include a number of smaller funding proposals, including some innovative ones, that are beyond the scope of this brief.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan

The first of two of the most significant funding sources that are included in President Biden’s and the Common Sense Coalition’s bipartisan framework is a measure to reduce the gap between what is paid and what is owed in taxes. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework proposes an increase in the IRS budget for making sure corporations and wealthy individuals pay what they legally owe. The amount of net revenue, after the costs of funding increased enforcement, are difficult to estimate. The Biden Administration estimates it could raise as much as $70 billion per year. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that increased enforcement resources overall would bring in more like $10 billion per year. The Problem Solvers Caucus also supports closing the tax gap by providing the IRS more enforcement resources. Senate Republicans do not.

 

Funding Sources

  • Reduce tax gap between what is owed vs paid
  • Repurpose unspent COVID relief funds

A second funding source that President Biden and the Common Sense Coalition agreed to is repurposing unused COVID relief funds approved in 2020.  Senate Republicans also agree that these funds should be a source for new infrastructure spending.

The Case For

Supporters of closing the tax gap between what is paid and what is owed argue that the way tax laws are currently enforced is unfair to middle and lower-income families. Most individuals’ pay is automatically reported directly to the IRS.  Much of corporations’ and wealthy individuals’ incomes is not. Especially because they do not have the same resources that corporations and wealthy individuals to hire accountants and attorneys, supporters of closing the tax gap argue, lower and middle-income individuals have far fewer opportunities to avoid taxes or fight an IRS audit. The teams of accountants and lawyers who work for corporations and the wealthy, on the other hand, actively seek legal loopholes and then fight audits if the IRS challenges the lengths to which they have taken tax avoidance. Some supporters of closing the tax gap also argue that reductions in IRS enforcement resources in recent years to wage such difficult battles have compounded the problem. They argue that the result is a decline in the audits of large corporations, while everyday families continue to be audited at similar rates.

Some supporters of repurposing unspent COVID relief dollars to pay for new infrastructure investments argue that the COVID relief packages were too large to all be spent practically or effectively. Many states and local governments, they argue, now have enormous budget surpluses.

The Case Against

Opponents of closing the tax gap argue that the IRS already makes too many individuals’ and corporations’ lives unnecessarily miserable with its current level of enforcement resources.  Telling the IRS to squeeze more out of American taxpayers with increased enforcement actions will simply increase how much we suffer from these unwanted experiences with the federal government.

Opponents of repurposing COVID relief dollars argue that it is too early to start redirecting those funds for other purposes. They suggest that the risks of continued COVID infections are not yet fully behind us, particularly with new strains emerging. The work to recover from the economic and other impacts, they also argue, will continue for some time even after the pandemic itself is behind us. They suggest that those funds should continue to be available to address those enduring impacts.

The Evidence

The Treasury Department reports that typically about 200 companies report net income to shareholders of $2 billion or more. Of those, “a significant share pay zero to negative income taxes.” The IRS reports that annual audit rates of corporations with over $20 billion in assets have declined from 100% in 2011 to under 60% in 2019.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s (CRFB) COVID Money Tracker indicates that about $1.6 trillion has been approved by Congress but not yet disbursed or committed. Additional CRFB analyses found that the first three federal COVID relief packages included more than $360 billion specifically for state and local governments. The last COVID package that President Biden signed into law on March 11, 2021 included another $350 billion for state and local governments. Many states now have significant budget surpluses. The example most frequently cited is California’s report in May that it has a $76 billion surplus. Two months earlier, the last COVID relief package allocated an additional $43 billion to California’s state and local governments. The Associated Press reports that most states are experiencing proportionally similar surpluses in the wake of the significant COVID relief funds they have received.


President Biden’s Plan

Presidential Seal of United States

The Biden Administration released the Made in America Tax Plan, a companion report to the American Jobs Plan that proposed how to pay for the new investments. In addition to closing the tax gap, the Made in America Tax Plan focuses on three additional measures that would increase the taxes that corporations pay to fund new investments in both physical and human infrastructure.

The first and single biggest measure is an increase in the corporate income tax rate from 21% to 28%. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB) estimates that it would generate an average of about $85 billion per year over the ten-year period covered by the American Jobs Plan. Prior to supporting the Common Sense Coalition plan President Biden had signaled a willingness to consider an increase to 25% rather than 28%, which would generate about $50 billion in new revenue.

Funding Sources

Not Included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

  • Increase corporate income tax: 21% to 28%
  • Minimum corporate tax of 15%
  • Limit multinational tax shifting

Second, President Biden’s plan would establish a minimum tax of 15% on the profits that corporations report to investors to curtail excessive corporate tax avoidance through various legal means. CFRB estimates this would raise an additional $10 billion per year.

Third, President Biden’s Made in America Tax plan includes five provisions to reduce how much U.S. multinational corporations shift their tax burden to other countries with lower taxes. For example, it would close the tax exemption on the first 10% of returns on foreign assets and eliminate tax deductions multinational U.S. corporations can receive when they shift production overseas. CommonSense American’s analysis of CFRB’s estimates concluded that together President Biden’s five provisions for reducing corporate tax shifting would generate about $80 billion in additional revenue per year.

The Case For

President Biden argues that the overall tax burden in the nation has been shifting off of the largest and most profitable corporations and onto families and small businesses. The failure of U.S. corporations to pay their fair share is also evident, the White House argues, when you compare how much lower corporate taxes are in the U.S. with other developed countries.

The long-term shift of the tax burden off of wealthy corporations onto families and small businesses was accelerated, the President argues, during the pandemic. While working and middle-class families and small businesses bore the economic brunt of COVID, he argues, most wealthy corporations continued to do quite well.

President Biden argues that the point of the Made in America Plan is not to punish successful companies. He agrees that they are critical to American prosperity. Instead, he contends, it is only fair for those corporations that derive the greatest economic benefits from the nation’s public-funded infrastructure to pay their fair share to support it.

President Biden also argues that many of his proposals would reduce the significant incentives that corporate America’s army of lobbyists have managed to build into the tax code that reward U.S. multinational corporations for moving operations overseas. By closing these loopholes, the President argues, we will do more than provide the funding needed to improve the country’s infrastructure. The Made in American plan will also, he suggests, keep more good paying jobs at home that U.S. corporations have been shipping overseas.

The Case Against

Opponents of President Biden’s measures to increase corporate taxes argue that the key to good American jobs is a robust business sector, not government spending. They contend that it is foolish to think that government spending at the extraordinary levels the Biden administration proposes on infrastructure and everything else can produce as many good jobs as American businesses could without a significantly increased tax burden. It is simply economically counterproductive, they contend, to increase corporate taxes to flood state and local governments with money for infrastructure projects that are far down their cost-benefit priority list. Particularly at the exceptional levels of funding proposed, opponents argue, American businesses will generate far more good jobs than excessive infrastructure investments will.

Many opponents of the President’s corporate tax plans agree that it is important to keep more of U.S. multinationals’ operations at home. They argue that the key, however, is to make sure U.S. corporate taxes are competitive. It is an advantage rather than a disadvantage, they argue, that our corporate taxes are lower than other developed countries. Republican opposition to President Biden’s tax plan particularly focuses on the proposed increase in corporate income taxes. If we raise those rates, they argue, we will only create greater incentives for companies to move their business to where rates are lower.

The Evidence

The U.S. Department of Treasury cites Office of Management and Budget data showing that the corporate share of federal tax revenue has decreased from about 28% in 1950 to about 7% in 2019. Over that same period, workers’ share has increased from about 50% to about 85%.

The Peter G. Peterson Foundation charts the history of corporate income tax rates. Those rates remained close to 50% from 1950 to 1986. They then stayed around 35% from 1986 until 2018 when they were reduced to the current rate of 21%. The Treasury Department cites data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which compares corporate taxes among the 38 member nations who are among the world’s most developed countries. OECD reports that corporations in countries with the highest taxes pay the equivalent of nearly 6% of those nations’ total economy. In countries at the low end of the OECD range, corporations pay taxes equivalent to about 0.2% of those nations’ economies. In countries in the middle of the range, corporations pay taxes equal to about 3% of their nations’ total economy. With corporate taxes equal to just under 1% of its economy, the U.S. has the 3rd lowest corporate taxes among the 38 OECD countries.


Senate Republicans’ Plan

The Republican Roadmap

In addition to suggesting that unused federal COVID relief funds be repurposed, Senate Republicans propose two additional major sources of new funding for infrastructure. 

First, Senate Republicans propose an emphasis on having those who use infrastructure bear some of the costs for increased infrastructure spending. The Problem Solvers Caucus also proposes this approach.  The Common Sense Coalition originally supported this approach as well.  However, they agreed in the negotiations with President Biden to drop this part of their plan.

Funding Sources

Not Included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

  • Increase usage-based taxes and fees
  • Save money by streamlining permit process

One user-focused method is indexing federal gas and diesel taxes to inflation. Another user-based approach supported by the three original proposals other than President Biden’s plan is to ensure that electric vehicle owners help pay for the roads they drive. Because they do not pay federal fuel taxes, other mechanisms have been proposed. The Problem Solvers Caucus recommends an annual surcharge on electric vehicles or a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) program for both gas and electric vehicles that could replace the federal fuels tax. In VMT programs, miles traveled are tracked electronically.

Second, Senate Republicans propose that we streamline and speed up the processes for getting permits to build infrastructure projects. They argue that this will, in effect, help with funding because it would significantly reduce the costs of those projects. The Problem Solvers Caucus joins Senate Republicans in recommending this measure, as do bipartisan think tanks like the Bipartisan Policy Center. Senate Republicans and the Problem Solvers Caucus propose, for example, extending FAST 41 provisions more broadly.

The Case For

Supporters of user-based taxes and fees argue that it is only fair that those who use a given type of infrastructure help pay for the increased spending on it. They observe that paying the federal tax on gas or diesel is one of the primary mechanisms to do that. Many also observe that in the 28 years since federal fuels taxes were increased, those taxes have lost to inflation a significant amount of their real value to pay for the wear and tear on the roads at the intended level. By at least indexing the fuel taxes to inflation going forward, they argue, their real purchasing power will not continue to decline. Supporters also argue that the number of electric vehicles now on the road means that it is high time that electric vehicle owners quit free loading on gas and diesel vehicle owners to also pay their fair share.

Senate Republicans and the Problem Solvers Caucus also argue that it makes little sense to flood state and local governments with an historic increase in infrastructure funding without streamlining the permitting process. Without permits the projects those dollars are supposed to fund cannot start. Supporters argue current processes are convoluted and often involve as many as a dozen separate agencies to obtain all the permits required to complete one infrastructure project. They also argue that the processes are overly time-consuming, often taking more than five years to complete and sometimes more than ten years. Those long permitting periods, they observe, significantly increase project costs. Senate Republicans and the PSC argue these are unnecessary cost increases. It is not about lowering environmental standards, they suggest, but simply making the process more rational and efficient in reaching decisions about whether a project meets those standards, including environmental standards. Supporters of permitting streamlining argue that other developed countries with environmental standards as high or higher than those in the U.S. typically permit projects in two years or less.

Proponents argue that streamlining permitting processes should be a part of any infrastructure package for two reasons. First, they argue, part of the goal of new funding is to rapidly put people to work by quickly ramping up infrastructure projects. That cannot be accomplished without streamlined permitting, they argue. Supporters argue that without streamlining, instead of taxpayers spending their own money in economically productive ways, that money will be sitting idle in government coffers waiting for permits rather than creating new jobs.

Second, Senate Republicans, the Problem Solvers Caucus, and others argue that permit streamlining, in effect, can help fund infrastructure. Because long and complicated permitting processes significantly increase infrastructure project costs, reducing those costs means that we can get significantly more infrastructure improvements with the same tax dollars. Those benefits include more dollars going towards jobs on the ground building and maintaining our infrastructure and fewer dollars spent on unproductive bureaucratic processes.

The Case Against

President Biden argues particularly strongly against measures that place some of the burden for increased infrastructure spending on users. The President is committed to keeping his campaign promise not to raise taxes on families earning less than $400,000 per year. The White House argues that whether it is indexing the federal fuels tax, going to a vehicle miles tax (VMT), or electric vehicle surcharges, those taxes will represent a bigger proportion of working and middle-class families’ income than it will for wealthy corporations or individuals. In an era of growing income inequality, the President argues, the user approach takes us in the wrong direction. President Biden also suggests that we should be increasing incentives to buy electric vehicles rather than discouraging their use by increasing fees on them. Opponents on the left and right also raise privacy concerns with the electronic vehicle tracking required for a vehicle miles tax (VMT).

The White House argues that the permitting processes in place are designed to keep us from permitting projects without fully understanding their environmental impacts. With rising climate change impacts, the Biden Administration argues, it is the wrong time to shortchange the analysis of environmental impacts beyond the effective streamlining provisions that have already been put in place.

The Evidence

The federal tax on gas was raised from 14.1 cents per gallon to the current 18.4 cents in 1993. The federal tax on diesel and other motor fuels was raised to 24.4 cents per gallon in 1993. The Peter G. Petersen Foundation reports that the real purchasing power of these federal motor fuels taxes have declined by 45% because of inflation in the 28 years since the current rates were set.


Considering the Proposed Infrastructure Packages Overall

Having reviewed how the four proposals answer the three core questions of (1) what should be included, (2) how much to spend, and (3) how to pay for it, we turn in this final section to considering the packages overall.

President Biden’s Updated American Jobs Plan

As discussed, President Biden’s modified American Jobs Plan proposed $170 billion per year for ten years in new federal spending. He proposed funding it with increases in corporate taxes, including closing the tax gap. The modified American Jobs Plan includes all 11 categories at the levels of spending reviewed in the brief. It also includes four more categories that we did not review because they are not included in the Common Sense Coalition plan that President Biden now supports. We describe these four additional categories briefly here to help inform your view of the modified American Jobs Plan package overall.

The first of the four additional categories included new investments in building, preserving, and retrofitting two million new homes and commercial buildings. At $22.3 billion in new spending per year, this category would get the third-highest level of investment in the modified American Jobs Plan.

Second, the modified American Jobs Plan proposed $9.7 billion in new spending per year for school facilities.

Third, it called for $2.8 billion of annual new investments to modernize and upgrade federal buildings in poor repair, with a particular focus on making Veterans Affairs hospitals state-of-the-art.

Fourth, the modified American Jobs Plan proposed investing in high-quality professional home and community-based care for aging Americans and those with disabilities. At $40 billion per year in new funding, the caregiving category would get by far the most proposed funding of any of the 15 categories in the modified American Jobs Plan.


Senate Republicans Plan

To review, the revised plan proposed by Republican Senators calls for $37.7 billion in new federal spending per year for eight years in the first seven categories at the levels we reviewed. They propose paying for it primarily through increased usage-based taxes and fees and by streamlining permit processes, in addition to repurposing unspent COVID relief funding.


Common Sense Coalition Plan

As described in the brief, the Senate Common Sense Coalition has proposed a bipartisan plan that is now also supported by President Biden. The CSC plan proposes $115.8 billion per year in new spending for five years across all 11 categories we reviewed in full. To pay for it, the plan emphasizes closing the tax gap between what is owed and paid by wealthy individuals and corporations and by repurposing unspent COVID relief money.


Problem Solvers Caucus Plan

As discussed, the bipartisan plan proposed by the House Problem Solvers Caucus calls for $77.3 billion in new spending over eight years across all 11 categories we reviewed in full. The PSC plan also includes $1.3 billion per year in new funding in the home building and construction category found in the revised American Jobs Plan. The Problem Solvers Caucus proposes paying for their plan with a focus on closing the tax gap, increasing usage-based fees, and streamlining the permitting process.


Linking Infrastructure to Other Legislation

Our final questions are about whether you think that support for a bipartisan infrastructure package should depend on what happens with the other legislation. As noted above, President Biden plans to pursue funding for the four categories not included in the Common Sense Coalition plan, the plan that he now supports, in separate legislation. He intends to also include in this separate legislation his American Families Plan that calls for $1.8 trillion in new spending over ten years on childcare, paid leave, universal preschool, and free community college. This separate legislation is also likely to include the corporate tax measures that are in the American Jobs Plan but not included in the Common Sense Coalition Plan, as well as increased taxes on those that earn more than $400,000 per year.

Tying support for bipartisan infrastructure legislation to this separate legislation is about process as much as substance. The bipartisan infrastructure legislation will be considered under normal rules. That means that 60 out of 100 senators most vote for it to pass. In the Senate, which is currently split evenly between Democrats (50) and Republicans (50), that means that at least 10 Republican senators must vote for a measure if all 50 Democratic senators vote for it. However, President Biden and congressional Democrats plan to pursue the separate legislation through the budget reconciliation process. Legislation considered under budget reconciliation rules can pass with a simple majority so that only 50 votes are required in the Senate if Vice President Harris breaks the tie in favor of a bill. In other words, congressional Democrats could pass the separate legislation with no Republican senators or representatives supporting it.

Some members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are indicating that how they vote on a bipartisan infrastructure package will depend on the separate legislation. Although President Biden has now pledged to sign bipartisan infrastructure legislation regardless of whether the other legislation passes, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and many progressive Democrats in Congress are indicating that they will not support the bipartisan infrastructure legislation unless the separate legislation also passes. They hope that this will convince moderate Democrats inclined to work on a bipartisan basis like Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to vote for the separate legislation that cannot pass without their support.

On the Republican side, some conservative Republicans are indicating that they will only vote for bipartisan infrastructure legislation if the separate legislation that includes President Biden’s and congressional Democrats other priorities does not pass. They hope that this will convince the same moderate Democrats not to support that separate legislation thus defeating it.

Both Democratic and Republican opponents of linking bipartisan infrastructure to the other legislation argue that if members of Congress take this approach, nothing can get done. They argue that it is better to consider each piece of legislation on its own merits.