As a candidate, President Biden promised to pass a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package intended to create jobs and help the United States compete with China. And if anything, his first month in office, in which a power crisis in Texas left millions of people in need of water and electricity, has underscored the urgency of upgrading the nation’s aging structural underpinnings.
But while the goal of addressing the United States’ infrastructure is bipartisan, the details are not. That includes how much to spend, what programs count as “infrastructure” and, most important, whether to raise taxes to pay for it.
Economists agree that government investments in infrastructure can help the economy run more efficiently, leading to stronger growth and faster wage gains for workers. That consensus has brought calls from a wide range of groups for lawmakers to pass a major infrastructure bill.
The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the country’s overall infrastructure a grade of D+, estimating that a funding gap of more than $2 trillion exists between needs and expected spending by all levels of government over the next decade. And the pandemic has put a spotlight on the poor quality of digital infrastructure in many parts of the United States, as more people are forced to work and attend school remotely.
“We’ve come to a point as a country where it’s very clear these needs can’t keep being deferred,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said in an interview. “This crisis reflects that.”
Business groups and many Republicans have expressed a willingness to work with the administration to pass $1 trillion or more in infrastructure spending. Areas of agreement with progressives include spending on highways, bridges, rural broadband networks, water and sewer lines and even some cornerstones of fighting climate change, like electric-car charging stations.
But Republicans and business groups have made clear to the administration that some of Mr. Biden’s preferred policies — taxes, in particular — could scuttle any chance of a consensus deal.
“I’m optimistic and hopeful that there will be a meaningful bipartisan agreement here because the needs are clear,” said Aric Newhouse, the senior vice president for policy and government relations at the National Association of Manufacturers.
If Mr. Biden tries to pay for the plan by raising taxes on corporations and other businesses, Mr. Newhouse said, “that would obviously be a huge problem, and make this, instead of a bipartisan effort, a partisan effort.”
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.