The White House issued its long awaited infrastructure package, or at least a lengthy summary of it, another step in the legislative consideration of a follow on ostensible COVID-19 stimulus package. The media is reporting the bill would provide more than $2.3 trillion for a variety of programs, and, again, the White House and Congressional Democrats are aiming to use the budget reconciliation process that negates the filibuster and requires only a majority vote for Senate passage.
Is Biden on his way to becoming JRB, joining FDR and LBJ?
The Democrats seem to have learned from the Obama Administration by pressing their advantage on issues that poll well daring Republicans to oppose them. Twelve years ago, the White House all but bent over backwards looking for bipartisanship. This time around, they are looking to pass a second package without regard for whether a single Republican in either chamber votes with them. The challenge will be to reach a deal all 50 Democrats in the Senate can live with. And, as always, will all the funding and provisions survive the Byrd bath?
Unlike the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” and last year’s massive stimulus bills, the infrastructure package will almost certainly include provisions raising revenue. Democratic stakeholders are calling for rollbacks of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017” (P.L. 115-97). As is often the case with such measures, Biden’s plan sketches out the corporate and business tax cuts and provisions he wants changed to offset the costs of his package. It may take months of negotiation with Congress to get to a final package of provisions to pay for some part of the package.
There are issues related to using budget reconciliation. The so-called Byrd Rule bars generally “extraneous” provisions that are “merely incidental” to raising or cutting government spending. Additionally, under current precedent reconciliation cannot be used to fund programs funded through the annual appropriations process. Such legislation could create new programs outside the normal appropriations process, but for obvious reasons the Appropriations Committees do not like this. It is nominally the Senate Parliamentarian who decides what is allowable under the Byrd Rule. That being said, the Senate’s presiding officer gets to rule on what is “merely incidental” and other points of order raised and is not obligated to heed the Senate Parliamentarian. Consequently, a Senate Democrat or the Vice-President could deny a point of order that the Byrd Rule is being violated but those wishing to overturn the ruling need 60 votes, which would be obviously difficult if not impossible given the partisan divisions in the Senate.
The “American Jobs Plan” harkens back to massive, transformational infrastructure programs and funding the United States (U.S.) has not seen since the Great Society. The funding and scope dwarf the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009” (P.L.111-5), which weighed in at a puny $800 billion. The Biden Administration’s plan is more than three times the size of the Obama Administration’s stimulus package, but to be fair, the politics were different then with deficits and debt being more potent political issues. The Biden Administration is proposing funding and programs that could set the U.S. on a new course, one Congressional Republicans will oppose at every turn.
In his remarks laying out the plan, President Joe Biden claimed:
- I’m proposing a plan for the nation that rewards work, not just rewards wealth. It builds a fair economy that gives everybody a chance to succeed, and it’s going to create the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world. It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It’s a once-in-a generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.
- In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War Two. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. It will grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interests, and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years.
The White House summarized the package:
- Fix highways, rebuild bridges, upgrade ports, airports and transit systems. The President’s plan will modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and main-streets. It will fix the ten most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction. It also will repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges, providing critical linkages to communities. And, it will replace thousands of buses and rail cars, repair hundreds of stations, renew airports, and expand transit and rail into new communities.
- Deliver clean drinking water, a renewed electric grid, and high-speed broadband to all Americans. President Biden’s plan will eliminate all lead pipes and service lines in our drinking water systems, improving the health of our country’s children and communities of color. It will put hundreds of thousands of people to work laying thousands of miles of transmission lines and capping hundreds of thousands of orphan oil and gas wells and abandoned mines. And, it will bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American, including the more than 35 percent of rural Americans who lack access to broadband at minimally acceptable speeds.
- Build, preserve, and retrofit more than two million homes and commercial buildings, modernize our nation’s schools and child care facilities, and upgrade veterans’ hospitals and federal buildings. President Biden’s plan will create good jobs building, rehabilitating, and retrofitting affordable, accessible, energy efficient, and resilient housing, commercial buildings, schools, and child care facilities all over the country, while also vastly improving our nation’s federal facilities, especially those that serve veterans.
- Solidify the infrastructure of our care economy by creating jobs and raising wages and benefits for essential home care workers. These workers – the majority of whom are women of color – have been underpaid and undervalued for too long. The President’s plan makes substantial investments in the infrastructure of our care economy, starting by creating new and better jobs for caregiving workers. His plan will provide home and community-based care for individuals who otherwise would need to wait as many as five years to get the services they badly need.
- Revitalize manufacturing, secure U.S. supply chains, invest in R&D, and train Americans for the jobs of the future. President Biden’s plan will ensure that the best, diverse minds in America are put to work creating the innovations of the future while creating hundreds of thousands of quality jobs today. Our workers will build and make things in every part of America, and they will be trained for well-paying, middle-class jobs.
- Create good-quality jobs that pay prevailing wages in safe and healthy workplaces while ensuring workers have a free and fair choice to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers. By ensuring that American taxpayers’ dollars benefit working families and their communities, and not multinational corporations or foreign governments, the plan will require that goods and materials are made in America and shipped on U.S.-flag, U.S.-crewed vessels. The plan also will ensure that Americans who have endured systemic discrimination and exclusion for generations finally have a fair shot at obtaining good paying jobs and being part of a union.
Obviously, the Biden plan focuses on a number of critical technology infrastructure issues, the highest profile one being broadband. The White House is vowing to provide high-speed broadband for all Americans at “minimally acceptable speeds,” a vague term that may allow wriggle room to provide something less than actual high-speed broadband. This bears watching, but many Congressional stakeholders will likely demand robust service, especially Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), a key vote, who has long advocated for better service for people in rural areas like most of West Virginia.
This high-level summary is also light on detail as to how the Biden Administration would fund a change in manufacturing, research and development (R&D), and supply chains.
Elsewhere in the fact sheet, one finds more detail, much of it in the form of policy argument and less brass tacks about what exactly the White House is proposing, in relevant part:
Revitalize America’s digital infrastructure:
…Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected. Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access. And, in part because the United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries, millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live. In urban areas as well, there is a stark digital divide: a much higher percentage of White families use home broadband internet than Black or Latino families. The last year made painfully clear the cost of these disparities, particularly for students who struggled to connect while learning remotely, compounding learning loss and social isolation for those students.
The President believes we can bring affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to every American through a historic investment of $100 billion. That investment will:
- Build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage. The President’s plan prioritizes building “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas so that we finally reach 100 percent high-speed broadband coverage. It also prioritizes support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities. Moreover, it ensures funds are set aside for infrastructure on tribal lands and that tribal nations are consulted in program administration. Along the way, it will create good-paying jobs with labor protections and the right to organize and bargain collectively.
- Promote transparency and competition. President Biden’s plan will promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge.
- Reduce the cost of broadband internet service and promote more widespread adoption. President Biden believes that building out broadband infrastructure isn’t enough. We also must ensure that every American who wants to can afford high-quality and reliable broadband internet. While the President recognizes that individual subsidies to cover internet costs may be needed in the short term, he believes continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers. Americans pay too much for the internet – much more than people in many other countries – and the President is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money.
Internet service providers (ISP) and telecommunications companies will not like being compared to electricity companies, for the latter are heavily regulated utilities that set rates subject to government approval. They will also not like some of the other policy changes the White House outright calls for or hints at. For example, the fact sheet cites Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) numbers showing the U.S. as having some of the most expensive broadband in the developed world while only having average speeds in the middle of the pack. Likewise, industry stakeholders will also find things not to like in the suggestion that non-white families have inferior service. Industry will probably not favor measures that would make pricing more transparent and will fight tooth and nail changes to federal policy that would allow more municipalities to build their own networks to serve underserved areas and/or to compete with private ISPs. Finally, the assertion that the federal government should do more to foster broadband buildout and adoption than helping people pay for service opens the door to policy options that could increase competition to bring down prices.
As noted above, the administration’s vague language on “minimally acceptable speeds” will come under scrutiny. Recently, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, acting Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese “urging [them] to update federal standards for high-speed broadband to reflect modern uses and align those standards across the government” per the press release. Currently, the FCC defines high-speed broadband as 25/3 Mbps and the USDA as 10/1, which as the Senators note is considered slow by most recent measures. The Biden Administration will likely need to increase the broadband defined as high-speed.
In anticipation of the Biden Administration’s plan, a number of stakeholders in Congress reintroduced legislation to expand the funding for broadband service to currently underserved people and areas. All the Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced the “Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act” (LIFT America Act) (H.R.1848) that would, among other funding provisions, give the Federal Communications Commission $80 billion for high-speed broadband. In the same vein, The “Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act” (H.R.1783/S.745) was introduced by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) in the House and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights Subcommittee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Senate along with cosponsors. They claimed in their press release “[t]he Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will invest over $94 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and ensure Americans have internet connectivity to learn and work from home, access telehealth services, and stay connected to loved ones” (see here for more analysis and detail.)
As with broadband, the fact sheet gets into much more detail on manufacturing, R&D, and supply chain:
Half the jobs in our high growth, high wage sectors are concentrated in just 41 counties, locking millions of Americans out of a shot at a middle-class job. President Biden believes that, even in the face of automation and globalization, America can and must retain well-paid union jobs and create more of them all across the country. U.S. manufacturing was the Arsenal of Democracy in World War II and must be part of the Arsenal of American Prosperity today, helping fuel an economic recovery for working families. From the invention of the semiconductor to the creation of the Internet, new engines of economic growth have emerged due to public investments that support research, commercialization, and strong supply chains. President Biden is calling on Congress to make smart investments in research and development, manufacturing and regional economic development, and in workforce development to give our workers and companies the tools and training they need to compete on the global stage.
The Biden Administration is asking Congress to provide something on the order of $200-300 billion for a variety of existing and yet-to-be established programs to foster the regrowth of U.S. manufacturing. Specifically, the White House is asking for the following, in relevant part:
Invest in R&D and the technologies of the future:
Public investments in R&D lay the foundation for the future breakthroughs that over time yield new businesses, new jobs, and more exports. However, we need more investment if we want to maintain our economic edge in today’s global economy. We are one of the few major economies whose public investments in research and development have declined as a percent of GDP in the past 25 years. Countries like China are investing aggressively in R&D, and China now ranks number two in the world in R&D expenditures. In addition, barriers to careers in high-innovation sectors remain significant. We must do more to improve access to the higher wage sectors of our economy. In order to win the 21st century economy, President Biden believes America must get back to investing in the researchers, laboratories, and universities across our nation. But this time, we must do so with a commitment to lifting up workers and regions who were left out of past investments. He is calling on Congress to make an $180 billion investment that will:
- Advance U.S. leadership in critical technologies and upgrade America’s research infrastructure. U.S. leadership in new technologies—from artificial intelligence to biotechnology to computing—is critical to both our future economic competitiveness and our national security. Based on bipartisan proposals, President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $50 billion in the National Science Foundation (NSF), creating a technology directorate that will collaborate with and build on existing programs across the government. It will focus on fields like semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, advanced energy technologies, and biotechnology. He also is calling on Congress to provide $30 billion in additional funding for R&D that spurs innovation and job creation, including in rural areas. His plan also will invest $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure in laboratories across the country, including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks. These funds would be allocated across the federal R&D agencies, including at the Department of Energy. Half of those funds will be reserved for Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions, including the creation of a new national lab focused on climate that will be affiliated with an HBCU.
- Establish the United States as a leader in climate science, innovation, and R&D. The President is calling on Congress to invest $35 billion in the full range of solutions needed to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis and position America as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs. This includes launching ARPA-C to develop new methods for reducing emissions and building climate resilience, as well as expanding across-the-board funding for climate research. In addition to a $5 billion increase in funding for other climate-focused research, his plan will invest $15 billion in demonstration projects for climate R&D priorities, including utility-scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, rare earth element separations, floating offshore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing, and electric vehicles, as well as strengthening U.S. technological leadership in these areas in global markets.
- Eliminate racial and gender inequities in research and development and science, technology, engineering, and math. Discrimination leads to less innovation: one study found that innovation in the United States will quadruple if women, people of color, and children from low-income families invented at the rate of groups who are not held back by discrimination and structural barriers. Persistent inequities in access to R&D dollars and to careers in innovation industries prevents the U.S. economy from reaching its full potential. President Biden is calling on Congress to make a $10 billion R&D investment at HBCUs and other MSIs. He also is calling on Congress to invest $15 billion in creating up to 200 centers of excellence that serve as research incubators at HBCUs and other MSIs to provide graduate fellowships and other opportunities for underserved populations, including through pre-college programs.
Retool and revitalize American manufacturers and small businesses:
The U.S. manufacturing sector accounts for 70 percent of business R&D expenditure, 30 percent of productivity growth, and 60 percent of exports. Manufacturing is a critical node that helps convert research and innovation into sustained economic growth. Workers on the factory floor work hand-in-hand with engineers and scientists to sharpen and maintain our competitive edge. While manufacturing jobs have been a ladder to middle-class life, we have let our industrial heartland be hollowed out, with quality jobs moving abroad or to regions with lower wages and fewer protections for workers. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $300 billion in order to:
- Strengthen manufacturing supply chains for critical goods. President Biden believes we must produce, here at home, the technologies and goods that meet today’s challenges and seize tomorrow’s opportunities. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $50 billion to create a new office at the Department of Commerce dedicated to monitoring domestic industrial capacity and funding investments to support production of critical goods. The President also is calling on Congress to invest $50 billion in semiconductor manufacturing and research, as called for in the bipartisan CHIPS Act.
- Make it in ALL of America. The President believes we must build social infrastructure to support innovation and productivity across the country. He is calling on Congress to invest $20 billion in regional innovation hubs and a Community Revitalization Fund. At least ten regional innovation hubs will leverage private investment to fuel technology development, link urban and rural economies, and create new businesses in regions beyond the current handful of high-growth centers. The Community Revitalization Fund will support innovative, community-led redevelopment projects that can spark new economic activity, provide services and amenities, build community wealth, and close the current gaps in access to the innovation economy for communities of color and rural communities that have suffered from years of disinvestment. And, President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $14 billion in NIST to bring together industry, academia, and government to advance technologies and capabilities critical to future competitiveness. He is calling on Congress to quadruple support for the Manufacturing Extensions Partnership —increasing the involvement of minority-owned and rurally-located small- and-medium-sized enterprises in technological advancement.
- Create a national network of small business incubators and innovation hubs. Almost all manufacturers (98 percent) are small- and medium-sized firms. Furthermore, small business ownership is a cornerstone of job creation and wealth building. However, even before the pandemic, many entrepreneurs struggled to compete in a system that is so often tilted in favor of large corporations and wealthy individuals. President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $31 billion in programs that give small businesses access to credit, venture capital, and R&D dollars. The proposal includes funding for community-based small business incubators and innovation hubs to support the growth of entrepreneurship in communities of color and underserved communities.
Finally, there are proposed changes to the corporate tax rate and other provisions that will be opposed by technology companies and others. The White House claimed “[t]ogether these corporate tax changes will raise over $2 trillion over the next 15 years and more than pay for the mostly one-time investments in the American Jobs Plan and then reduce deficits on a permanent basis:
- Set the Corporate Tax Rate at 28 percent. The President’s tax plan will ensure that corporations pay their fair share of taxes by increasing the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. His plan will return corporate tax revenue as a share of the economy to around its 21st century average from before the 2017 tax law and well below where it stood before the 1980s. This will help fund critical investments in infrastructure, clean energy, R&D, and more to maintain the competitiveness of the United States and grow the economy.
- Discourage Offshoring by Strengthening the Global Minimum Tax for U.S. Multinational Corporations. Right now, the tax code rewards U.S. multinational corporations that shift profits and jobs overseas with a tax exemption for the first ten percent return on foreign assets, and the rest is taxed at half the domestic tax rate. Moreover, the 2017 tax law allows companies to use the taxes they pay in high-tax countries to shield profits in tax havens, encouraging offshoring of jobs. The President’s tax reform proposal will increase the minimum tax on U.S. corporations to 21 percent and calculate it on a country-by-country basis so it hits profits in tax havens. It will also eliminate the rule that allows U.S. companies to pay zero taxes on the first 10 percent of return when they locate investments in foreign countries. By creating incentives for investment here in the United States, we can reward companies that help to grow the U.S. economy and create a more level playing field between domestic companies and multinationals.
- End the Race to the Bottom Around the World. The United States can lead the world to end the race to the bottom on corporate tax rates. A minimum tax on U.S. corporations alone is insufficient. That can still allow foreign corporations to strip profits out of the United States, and U.S. corporations can potentially escape U.S. tax by inverting and switching their headquarters to foreign countries. This practice must end. President Biden is also proposing to encourage other countries to adopt strong minimum taxes on corporations, just like the United States, so that foreign corporations aren’t advantaged and foreign countries can’t try to get a competitive edge by serving as tax havens. This plan also denies deductions to foreign corporations on payments that could allow them to strip profits out of the United States if they are based in a country that does not adopt a strong minimum tax. It further replaces an ineffective provision in the 2017 tax law that tried to stop foreign corporations from stripping profits out of the United States. The United States is now seeking a global agreement on a strong minimum tax through multilateral negotiations. This provision makes our commitment to a global minimum tax clear. The time has come to level the playing field and no longer allow countries to gain a competitive edge by slashing corporate tax rates.
- Prevent U.S. Corporations from inverting or claiming tax havens as their residence. Under current law, U.S. corporations can acquire or merge with a foreign company to avoid U.S. taxes by claiming to be a foreign company, even though their place of management and operations are in the United States. President Biden is proposing to make it harder for U.S. corporations to invert. This will backstop the other reforms which should address the incentive to do so in the first place.
- Deny Companies Expense Deductions for Offshoring Jobs and Credit Expenses for Onshoring. President Biden’s reform proposal will also make sure that companies can no longer write off expenses that come from offshoring jobs. This is a matter of fairness. U.S. taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize companies shipping jobs abroad. Instead, President Biden is also proposing to provide a tax credit to support onshoring jobs.
- Eliminate a Loophole for Intellectual Property that Encourages Offshoring Jobs and Invest in Effective R&D Incentives. The President’s ambitious reform of the tax code also includes reforming the way it promotes research and development. This starts with a complete elimination of the tax incentives in the Trump tax law for “Foreign Derived Intangible Income” (FDII), which gave corporations a tax break for shifting assets abroad and is ineffective at encouraging corporations to invest in R&D. All of the revenue from repealing the FDII deduction will be used to expand more effective R&D investment incentives.
- Enact A Minimum Tax on Large Corporations’ Book Income. The President’s tax reform will also ensure that large, profitable corporations cannot exploit loopholes in the tax code to get by without paying U.S. corporate taxes. A 15 percent minimum tax on the income corporations use to report their profits to investors—known as “book income”—will backstop the tax plan’s other ambitious reforms and apply only to the very largest corporations.
- Eliminate Tax Preferences for Fossil Fuels and Make Sure Polluting Industries Pay for Environmental Clean Up. The current tax code includes billions of dollars in subsidies, loopholes, and special foreign tax credits for the fossil fuel industry. As part of the President’s commitment to put the country on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050, his tax reform proposal will eliminate all these special preferences. The President is also proposing to restore payments from polluters into the Superfund Trust Fund so that polluting industries help fairly cover the cost of cleanups.
- Ramping Up Enforcement Against Corporations. All of these measures will make it much harder for the largest corporations to avoid or evade taxes by eliminating parts of the tax code that are too easily abused. This will be paired with an investment in enforcement to make sure corporations pay their fair share. Typical workers’ wages are reported to the IRS and their employer withholds, so they pay all the taxes they owe. By contrast, large corporations have at their disposal loopholes they exploit to avoid or evade tax liabilities, and an army of high-paid tax advisors and accountants who help them get away with this. At the same time, an under-funded IRS lacks the capacity to scrutinize these suspect tax maneuvers: A decade ago, essentially all large corporations were audited annually by the IRS; today, audit rates are less than 50 percent. This plan will reverse these trends, and make sure that the Internal Revenue Service has the resources it needs to effectively enforce the tax laws against corporations. This will be paired with a broader enforcement initiative to be announced in the coming weeks that will address tax evasion among corporations and high-income Americans.
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