GOP's Weak Attack On Biden's Infrastructure Plan

[ Posted Monday, April 5th, 2021 – 15:07 UTC ]

As I am wont to do, I watched all the Sunday political chatfests this weekend (well... as many of them as I could stomach, at any rate...). I was mostly interested in hearing the Republicans' counterargument to the American Jobs Plan that President Joe Biden introduced last week, a massive $2.3 trillion investment in America. What I heard, however, was just laughably weak. Republicans apparently want to have a grand debate over the proper definition of the word "infrastructure," since they apparently have already figured out that talking about the specifics of Biden's plan doesn't exactly help their side. I mean, what is a respectable Republican politician supposed to do, when just about everything in Biden's plan sounds like a dandy idea to most of the public? So, rather than hold a debate about these popular specifics, Republicans instead prefer to play semantic games.

Their argument can be boiled down quite simply: "But it's not infrastructure!"

That's it. That's all they've got. Defining the word infrastructure to mean "only roads and bridges" is the new GOP position. Note that this position doesn't say that all the other stuff that they don't consider to be infrastructure isn't worth doing, because (again), they really don't want to have that debate at all.

This is a reprise of their failed argument about the COVID-19 relief bill (the American Rescue Plan) that passed earlier, except that back then their obsession was over "unity" and "bipartisanship." Normal people outside the Beltway didn't care in the slightest over this argument, and likewise nobody now cares what the official GOP definition of infrastructure is, either.

Considering how good Republicans used to be at demonizing Democratic proposals, this whole attempt is just pathetic. For years, conservatives have won many a media battle simply by framing the whole thing in their terms and repeating their claims so many times that eventually people started to consider their position rational and correct. This has worked for decades for the party, which is why its absence is so notable now.

Republicans did manage to successfully hoodwink many supposedly neutral journalists, who started using the GOP framing in their questions on yesterday's shows:

  • "This $2 trillion ask, only about 5 percent of the funding goes to infrastructure," Margaret Brennan of CBS News's "Face the Nation" asked Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House's Council of Economic Advisers. "Can you honestly call this a focus on building roads and bridges?"
  • "We're already having a debate of, 'Hey, bridges, roads: That's infrastructure. Elder care is not,'" said NBC News's Chuck Todd to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "Define infrastructure in your view."
  • "Only about 5 percent of this bill goes for traditional roads and bridges," said ABC's George Stephanopoulos to Buttigieg. "So why not focus on that traditional core infrastructure?"
  • "Those may well be worthy projects," said Fox News's Chris Wallace to Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council after noting that the bill spends money on housing and care for seniors, "but they're not infrastructure."

The first Democratic reaction to this is: "That's a bogus number" (when you add up all the things Republicans used to consider infrastructure, it's more like 40 percent of the plan). But the second reaction is much more powerful: "Who cares?!?"

Republicans got their "five to seven percent" figure by counting only roads and bridges. That's it. They didn't count railroads, the electric grid, water and sewer systems, broadband, or housing in their incredibly narrow definition of what constitutes proper infrastructure. As the article explains:

The idea that only roads and bridges are infrastructure is like saying, "You said your house needed work, but the floors and walls seem fine. Why bother fixing the leaking pipes and the broken roof and the electrical system that shorts out? That's not really the core of the house, which as we all know is floors and walls and nothing else."

This is precisely the argument Republicans are making. And it's bogus, and they know it. Because average Americans just do not care what label the GOP deems appropriate, the public instead would just like to see some stuff get done, period. That's what they elected Joe Biden to do, and so far they are supportive of his efforts to fix some longstanding problems in this country. Who in their right mind is going to say to themselves: "Well, the town got all its old lead pipes replaced, we got broadband out at the farm now, and my aging mother now gets home care through Medicaid, but none of that is truly infrastructure -- so I can't support any of it."

As with any legislation, it will ultimately succeed or fail (assuming it passes) by what is included within it and what is not. If people like the things the new programs do, then the party that passed the legislation will benefit politically. If people don't like (or even hate) what the plan does, then the opposition party will reap the political benefits. That's pretty much a law of political nature, really.

But Republicans are trying to ignore this natural law, and instead launch a gigantic argument over the definition of a governmental term. This argument is not only pointless, it is downright ridiculous. Because outside the Beltway, normal people don't pay much attention to such foolishness. They're much more concerned with the reality of what the new plan will accomplish, and what it won't.

The White House knows it is on the winning side of this attempt at distraction. One senior economic policy advisor pushed back: "Replacing water pipes, laying fiber, building new housing, repairing our schools and our child-care facilities and our community colleges and our federal buildings, including VA hospitals -- you would have to have an extremely narrow and indefensible definition of infrastructure not to include those elements."

Also in the plan are investments in: home-care services, electric vehicles, electric vehicle charging stations, railways, the electrical grid, airports, ports, disaster relief, pandemic preparedness, job training, small business, manufacturing, research, and public transit.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the rounds on the Sunday shows, showing how easy it is to counter the Republican hair-splitting:

I don't know why anybody would say it's a mistake to invest in the [electric] grid after what we just witnessed in Texas. We saw U.S. citizens, living in Texas, melting snow in their bathtubs to be able to flush their toilets, in the United States of America. That is unacceptable. So yes, infrastructure includes energy infrastructure. You know what else is part of infrastructure now? Broadband.... I'm proud of the fact that we're going to finally get broadband out to every American, because we know, especially in rural areas, how much that's cutting people off from opportunity.

Putting aside the argument of what technically is and is not infrastructure, the larger question remains: how can people reasonably be against any of this?

But Republicans don't want to answer that particular question. Instead, here is the Republican argument (such as it is), from a former Trump O.M.B. communications official:

Water, energy, commercial space and broadband sectors are not transportation infrastructure. Each of these areas has a budget and committee process by which they can be debated, discussed, and amended, and then funds appropriated, as opposed to throwing up large round number amounts with no specific plan other than just to spend money and reward the left's politically approved industries.

That's it. That's all they've got. Because, you know, it's so common for voters to say things like: "I am firmly against all of these wonderful new programs because they didn't go through the proper parliamentary committee process and therefore were not properly debated in the proper forum in both houses of Congress." Yeah, that's what voters are really going to think....

It's all pretty laughable, really.

I mean, Republicans used to be so good at this sort of thing.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


27 Comments on “GOP's Weak Attack On Biden's Infrastructure Plan”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Wow, yes. I had the same smack-my-head reaction to a conservative friend that I debate on Facebook from time to time. Late last week he objected to a posted article on a mutual friend's page, praising the Biden plan. "But only 5% is infrastructure - why don't the Dems admit they're lying and be more upfront about the radical nature of this bogus 'infrastructure' legislation?"

    I was actually kind of surprised, because even the casual attention I'd paid to the bill's specifics up to that point told me that the bill was, maybe, 50% "infrastructure", meaning physical construction projects. The rest of it was public investment in important aspects of government services, planning, and private sector coordination.

    I asked my friend to explain where he was coming from, and I don't believe I got an answer - rather, he changed the subject and we moved on. Now I know, thanks to your report: he got his information about the bill from whatever conservative news outlet he follows. Being a nice guy but a fairly uncritical consumer of right-wing dogma, he went with what he was told was a dead-on unanswerable objection to any praise of the infrastructure bill as such.

    I really was kind of puzzled how anyone could read up on the bill and complain that only 5% was 'roads and bridges' so it's not 'infrastructure'.

    So - I guess - my point here is that when you say Americans don't pay attention to stuff like that, so why are Republicans even trying to take this approach, the answer is: because they're talking to their base, and only to their base.

    One suspects that Republican politicians are now so convinced that their party faithful will punish them for any deviation from the party line, that that's their only priority now in public discourse. Don't try to come up with original legislative programs; don't try to oppose Democratic legislation with effective arguments that would split the Dems or open them to discussions about a compromise; don't try to find new electoral majorities in the country built around new electoral strategies that play on conservatism's strengths and natural attractions. Just say what has to be said to avoid being drummed out of the party for the apostasy of thinking in the real world.

    If your impression is right about the Sunday shows' hosts stupidly parroting the 'roads and bridges' angle, it's more than too bad that the media is even now trying to report on Republican positioning as if it was the product of rational and intelligent political thinking. I wonder when, if ever, the media will simply stop accepting lies and misstatements as serious political discourse just because it comes from an elected politician?

  2. [2] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    There's an old-fashioned word that does cover everything in Biden's plan. That word is 'Welfare', in its original connotation. Unfortunately, at some point maybe 40-50 yrs ago, it somehow morphed from its original meaning into something akin to 'charity', or 'freebies for poor people', but maybe we should re-define it back to its roots.

    Call Biden's plan 'The plan to promote the general welfare.!!

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    that's not bad! i'm sure the original welfare programs were supposed to mean that too, but like you say, the original constitutional meaning was lost to the worst aspects of the government programs.

    we could always go with the slightly less popular 'secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity' - i've heard it was all the rage in your time ;)


  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    CRS [2],

    Very nice!

  5. [5] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Republicans may be opposing the infrastructure bill now, but if it passes without a single Republican vote, at least a few Republicans like Madison Cawthorn will start telling their constituents about the benefits of the great bill that "Congress" passed for them.

  6. [6] 
    andygaus wrote:

    Republicans will oppose the infrastructure bill till it passes, and then they'll try to tell their constituents about the benefits of a bill that "Congress" passed for them.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    ...and likewise nobody now cares what the official GOP definition of infrastructure is, either.

    Ah, but if you're a Repug and/or a Trumpanzie you get your "reality" from the Fox Cinematic Universe. The alternative reality where "woke/cancel culture" and another seasonal surge of immigrants at the border are the grave crises facing America.

    Recovering from Covid? 500,00 dead 'Muricans? Cleaning up our Democracy after Trump? Repugs won't talk about any of that.

    I know that I keep harping on this, but anytime you find yourself shaking your head at the latest outrageous Repug comment, remember that they aren't talking to all of us. They are speaking only to their base that, say, lives in an alternative reality where Trump won reelection.

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Yo, I read the column, lifted a quote and proceeded to post before I read the comments. Sorry for the redundancy, Amigo, and I'm glad I'm not the only one thinking this way.

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    ...we could always go with the slightly less popular 'secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity' - i've heard it was all the rage in your time ;)
    Phweeet! Penalty...15 yards...unnecessary snarkiness.

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    So C.R. Stucki, is it true that you're a "mountain man?" If you ain't living high at 7000 feet, I don't think it counts.

    I also understand that you may be the Senior Weigantian, so to speak. You are if you were born before me, November 1958. Is it true? (I'm at the age where is prefer to not be the oldest cat in the conversation.)

  11. [11] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    Dems should also be pointing out that the GOP is very content to complain and sit on their hands now-a-days collecting funds from folks who want the old ways to continue....
    Perhaps it is me being a product of the space race, but the GOP has taken a noticeable interest in slavishly stating that on one hand America is best while on the other refusing to invest in what made us best.

    JFK sums it up wonderfully, "The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of bold projects and new ideas. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend passion, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the great enterprises and ideals of American society."

    Hopefully the Biden team can leverage the times now to take us back to a space where we were all a little bit more united in pursuing a common goal... It is just unfortunate that our common goal is making our infrastructure first world again.

  12. [12] 
    Mezzomamma wrote:

    MtnCaddy 10: I'm an early boomer--1947--and remember when stuff like water and sewer pipes were considered to be public responsibilities, especially since we lived in a few places where they didn't go far from the center of towns.
    I remember the first polio vaccines too, and how kids and adults were struck down before that. (Anyone my age probably went to school with someone on crutches or in a wheelchair, or with a withered arm.) So the polio vaccine centers were crowded with desperate women and their children, and no one claimed it wasn't a public responsibility.

  13. [13] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Mtn caddy-
    Don't worry about being the oldest. I was born at the end of June in 58.

    I was born about two weeks late. This was mt first political action as I was holding out being born until they made Hawaii a state so that Obama would be able to run for president. :D

  14. [14] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    There was a girl in my class in a wheelchair due to polio (or maybe some other similar problem. I don't remember for sure).

    One day she was running the projector for a movie and a kid came into the class late while the lights were out. When the projector got stuck the kid that came in late said "What's the matter- you got polio?" (or whatever it was that she had).

    The lights were turned and she just looked at him and said "Yes, I do."

  15. [15] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    You have out done yourself with this one.

    The two party system is "Natural Law?"

    No, it is not.

    If one path is filled with vipers and another path is filled with rattlesnakes, natural law says take another path then the two filled with deadly snakes and if there isn't another path then you make another path.

    Wake up. Wise up. Rise up.
    Get Real.
    Get Credible.

  16. [16] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Mtn Caddy (7)-
    "Recovering from Covid? 500,00 'Muricans dead. Cleaning up our democracy after Trump. Repugs won't talk about any of that."

    Neither will Deathocrats unless they are trying to pass off their share of the blame on Republikillers.

    Deathocrat supporters are just as delusional as Trump/Republikiller supporters.

    Both parties played politics with covid which covers your first two.

    Trump was elected because the Deathocrats have consistently failed to deliver after elected and offered lame big money false alternatives like Hillary and Biden.

    Had it not been for covid for the Deathocrats to use for political advantage Trump could have easily won again.

    Returning to the same normal that gave us Trump is NOT cleaning up our democracy after Trump.

    That is creating the conditions leading to the possibility (inevitability?) of another Trump in the near future that could be even worse.

    But Deathocrat supporters won't talk about any of that.

    They only want to have their delusions re-affirmed so they can live in their alternate reality where the Deathocrats are the good guys and only Republikiller supporters are delusional.

  17. [17] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    "I mean, Republicans used to be so good at this sort of thing."

    Yes, but that was before they started making a concerted effort to expel competent conservative politicians from their ranks. However, as more and more republican officeholders are replaced with right wing crackpots and conspiracy theorist "outsiders" who have minimal understanding of political processes and no desire to learn, their ability to function as a cohesive political entity has dropped off dramatically. With their ability to shape arguments and create messages collapsing in recent years, it has left them little more than the brute force of their votes to push their agenda, such as it is.

    And even that power they retain almost exclusively due to various undemocratic means, such as the imbalanced representation in the House and Senate, and as a result, the electoral college. If congress were to actually represent the voters, the House would be split 224-211 in favor of Democrats (instead of 222-213) and the Senate would roughly be split 55-45 in favor of Democrats (instead of 50-50).

  18. [18] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    14 update-
    Now I remember. It was palsy.

  19. [19] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    15 update-
    Or as Zappa said:
    Don't go where the Huskies go and don't you eat that yellow snow.

  20. [20] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    if you don't like it, why don't you ordain and establish some rules?


  21. [21] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Caddy [10]

    Definitely a "Mountain Man", but not at 7000ft, only 4500ft, altho I've spent a lot of time at 7000ft in my younger days.

    Definitely "Senior Weigantian", dob 12-12-35, (closin' in on 86).

  22. [22] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    OMG, Don, you effing crack me up! Again, you're waaay better at humor (and that's not a bad blues tune in YouTube, said the bass guitarist) than you are at advocating OD. Just sayin'

  23. [23] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Not quite. It goes,

    Watch out where the huskies go,
    And don't you eat that yellow snow

    I came of age listening to Frank Zappa, and Apostrophe was my first Zappa album.

  24. [24] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    nypoet22 wrote,


    if you don't like it, why don't you ordain and establish some rules?


    Um, what are you talking about? I like making rules as much as the next guy, but I'd need to know what the subject matter is. Please revert.

  25. [25] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    CRS, 4500ft definitely qualifies you as a Mountain Man. I'm curious -- what state?

    Also, congrats on your longevity. You seem to be the token Conservative here in Weigantia, and I appreciate your comments in this space.

  26. [26] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Don Harris wrote,

    Both parties played politics with covid which covers your first two.

    No, there's no way a President Hillary (or basically any Dem or Repugs candidate besides Trump) would have botched our Covid response.

    When you ignore that fact and say "a pox on both big money parties -- it doesn't make a difference," you just kill your credibility. NOT a good game plan if you want to persuade people. That kind of simplistic thinking does not become you, Dawg.

    Trump was elected because the Deathocrats have consistently failed to deliver after elected and offered lame big money false alternatives like Hillary and Biden.

    Had it not been for covid for the Deathocrats to use for political advantage Trump could have easily won again.

    How could I disagree with that?

    In summary --
    We AGREE on the problem of big money dominating American politics.
    We DISAGREE on OD being the solution.

  27. [27] 
    Kick wrote:


    When you ignore that fact and say "a pox on both big money parties -- it doesn't make a difference," you just kill your credibility. NOT a good game plan if you want to persuade people. That kind of simplistic thinking does not become you, Dawg.

    That's basically what CW told him... and nicely peppered it with terms like [paraphrasing here] 'reality based and not some purity fantasyland where unicorns fart rainbows and pixies frolic in the meadow.' It was an epic takedown of the Harris Bullshit Mountain that generally echoes and is a direct ripoff of whatever routine Jimmy Dore has recently posted on YouTube. Don's shit isn't even original... merely regurgitated Dore spewage. :)

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