There is only one thing both parties agree on — spending money we do not have. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who wants a balanced budget, is one of the few clear-headed people in Congress regarding this issue.
I’m a fiscal conservative and social liberal, as well as a former Georgia GOP elected official. Decades ago, I fit nicely into the GOP, which was trying to evaluate public expenditures based on costs versus benefits. Said another way, the old GOP cared about waste but also about addressing the needs of our citizens. No more.
Of course, we all should know by now that Trump was no fiscal conservative. His record from 2017-20 proves he was a big spender. Check the deficit. It went from $665 billion in 2017, to $3.7 trillion in 2020. That’s an increase of 556% in his four years in office.
But there’s more to the story. For decades, the GOP has ignored fiscal responsibility, getting much worse under Trump. It advocated tax cuts (especially for corporations and the wealthy) while constantly urging more military spending. And Trump and his friends worried little about the deficit that their polices created. The Trumpist Republican Party became the “spend wildly and cut taxes” party.
Often, the primary group pushing these members of Congress for increased funding was not the Pentagon. It was the military-industrial complex that Ike warned us about — big corporations wanting cost-plus contracts, corporate welfare regardless of the need for tanks, planes and so on. And the GOP fully supported them. It’s a little late for the GOP to suddenly advocate for the concept of fiscal responsibility now, when the Democrats are in power.
On the other hand, the Democrats have traditionally been the big-spending party. As opposed to the GOP, which talks about helping the middle-income folks but does little, Democrats generally have been for the small guy, trying to get things like health care coverage increased. But they have not been good at raising the revenue needed to pay for these programs. Which brings me to President Joe Biden.
Biden pushed through his massive COVID-19 relief package with almost no GOP support. Reconciliation was used in the Senate to pass it with only 50 votes. It addressed many clear and vital needs (such as targeted help for businesses hurt by the pandemic), but it also had some questionable areas (like sending $2,800 checks to couples making $149,000 annually). Plus, the bill had an enormous price tag of $1.9 trillion. There were very few revenue-raising measures (mostly relating to big corporations) included in the package.
Now, Biden proposes an infrastructure bill that goes far beyond what most Americans understand as infrastructure. Not only does it address roads, bridges and so forth, the bill also has funding for broadband, education and a wide range of other noncapital items. And the Biden camp admits that, even with the revenue gains proposed (increasing taxes on businesses, but not back to where they were prior to the Trump cuts), it will not pay for itself for decades.
There’s no question that infrastructure is collapsing in the United States and that we are far behind other developed nations. Both parties agree on that much. What they cannot seem to agree on is exactly what should be in the bill and how to pay for it. They have been floating different proposals back and forth, including the recent GOP proposal spearheaded by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. That’s good, although the GOP has yet to give any input into how the expenditures will be paid for if not via business taxation, which they oppose.
Which brings us to Manchin and Capito. Simply stated, Manchin does not want the deficit to grow. But at the same time, he does want infrastructure improvements. He’s working with a group of five other senators to structure a compromise deal. That compromise proposal should be where both parties end up in a bipartisan bill, so long as it is done quickly. This cannot be allowed to turn into yet another GOP stalling tactic, like the Obamacare fiasco. Capito and Manchin can make sure progress is made soon.
As for Biden, his priorities that are not covered within the infrastructure bill can be brought up under reconciliation at a later date. Hopefully, there will be revenue increases to offset costs.