As Democrats prepare Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill to pass under budget reconciliation, Republicans have been trying to argue that provisions in the bill that fund things other than structures like roads and highways don’t count as infrastructure.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), however, is pushing back on that idea. Sanders and other Democrats and progressives argue that infrastructure is not just about the physical infrastructure around us, but rather also about people and the public’s ability to survive and thrive in the U.S.
For instance, Sanders noted on Tuesday that the U.S. is 39th in global rankings for life expectancy by country — with some ranking the U.S. even lower on the list. “Rebuilding our infrastructure is not just roads and bridges,” Sanders tweeted. “The new reconciliation bill must include protecting the planet, health care, education, housing and providing for the needs of a long-neglected working class.”
Republicans have been trying to claim that only a small percentage of Biden’s infrastructure bill is actually related to infrastructure and have resorted to fearmongering about the provisions in the bill. The bill contains over $2 billion in funding for provisions like transportation updates and electrification; improving quality of life at home by replacing all lead pipes; expansion of broadband internet; and caregiving for the elderly.
Fact checkers have debunked Republicans’ claims that only a limited amount of the bill is for infrastructure, saying that the definition of infrastructure would have to be vanishingly small and outdated to not include improvements to things like electricity, water and internet. The Washington Post called the Republicans’ definition of infrastructure “a strangely 19th century characterization for a 21st century economy.”
Democrats and progressives also say that proposals to help human infrastructure are just as important as the other elements. “When a working class family can’t find quality, affordable childcare, that’s human infrastructure. When a senior can’t afford dental care, hearing aids, or eyeglasses, that’s human infrastructure,” tweeted Sanders on Monday. “Our nation must address the human infrastructure that we have ignored for too long.”
One proposal, for instance, raises wages for home health workers, largely women of color. “I couldn’t be going to work if I had to take care of my parents,” Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told The New York Times. “How is that not infrastructure?”
Meanwhile, Sanders argues, the infrastructure plan can help to address how the U.S. is falling behind other countries in “providing for working class families, the elderly, and the children” and said on CNN that the U.S. is facing a human infrastructure “crisis.” Quality of life indicators like union membership, how much of the economy goes toward paying workers, the minimum wage and health care costs are all uniquely poor in the U.S.; the country has become an anomaly among other wealthy countries in terms of social measures.
Biden himself has also argued that the plan is sound. “It’s kind of interesting that when the Republicans put forward an infrastructure plan, they thought everything from broadband to dealing with other things” qualified as infrastructure, Biden noted. Republicans like Donald Trump have previously endorsed the idea of including broadband improvement, among other things, into an infrastructure package.
Economists like Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University agree that the infrastructure plan should include improvements to human infrastructure. “The Biden administration’s commitment to making investments in the ‘caring economy’ makes sense from the perspective of the quality and quantity of growth,” wrote Stiglitz in the Boston Globe. “We can’t expect to have a strong economy in the future if 20 percent of young people grow up in poverty without a good pre-K education or adequate health care.”