America’s infrastructure is old and decrepit by world standards.
Without taking a position for or against the specifics of the Biden plan, one thing we think Americans ought to agree on is the incontrovertible truth that infrastructure needs in this country are massive and growing more dire by the day.
Roads are crumbling. Survey after survey shows many bridges are approaching the danger stage. Railways look like a relic from another century. Communities routinely face big challenges with water and sewer systems.
States and municipalities can’t keep up with routine maintenance, let alone get ahead with improvements to meet the future.
Tourism folks state the obvious. Visitors from other countries—those that have made infrastructure a priority—look at the United States as presenting the appearance of an aging and fading destination. Compare high-speed passenger rail in Asia to the broken down, graffiti-marred freighters on U.S. soil. Or the gleaming and modern airports abroad to places like O’Hare in Chicago or LaGuardia in New York City.
Meanwhile, both political parties talk every campaign about infrastructure needs. Then they do embarrassingly little after the votes are counted.
Why? No mystery there.
Both sides want better infrastructure. Neither side wants to pay for it.
Democrats’ ready-made answer is to tax the rich and big corporations.
Republicans recoil at the very mention of taxes or fees.
The only other option is more deficits and debt.
It has been said that to govern is to choose. On infrastructure, Democrats and Republicans have chosen to take a pass.
In our view, government exists to do the things people can’t do for themselves. That includes building roads and bridges and airports and sewer systems.
Most of those things are not partisan. The argument over raising revenue through higher taxes is real and important. The argument over deficit spending is, well, a lie. Both parties, when in power, print money with alacrity and spend as if the tab will never come due. The parties only discover their concern over debt when the other guy is in power.
The late great Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen once said, “a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” Today it’s not billions, it’s trillions.
Even so, American infrastructure is middle-aged, or more, and it shows in depressing detail all across the land. The two parties should govern, find common ground and make a deal that matters in people’s lives.