President Biden Wednesday announced his ambitious, jaw-droppingly large $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan which includes everything from fixing 20,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges, more affordable housing, electric car transportation, broadband for rural America, upgrading the electric grid, research and development for high tech industries, in-home care for older Americans, public transportation, water infrastructure, support for advanced manufacturing, closing the racial gaps in the economy, additional support for public schools and community colleges, the National Science Foundation and disaster resilience…just to name a few.

We’ve not hit his 100 days in office and he’s delivered his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and offered a plan to remake the American economy building from the bottom up.

This is “Sleepy Joe?”

For 50 years we’ve watched as the nation’s infrastructure slowly crumbled and the government’s commitment to education, job training and research and development dwindled to the point where it now less than two percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Mr. Biden’s big bet is that these challenges cannot be met by the private sector alone, that it takes a public/private partnership to make it work. He’s making the federal government the catalyst the marketplace needs to restore the nation to its proper standing, something that is seen as being increasingly crucial as China continues to fill the vacuums we’ve created and pursues its drive to dominate the world at a variety of levels.

In short, the president proposes to invest in both our human and our physical capital, with big dollars, something that done properly could reset the American economy for decades. But that’s the challenge: doing it properly. Spending money is easy; making sure the desired results are achieved is another matter. And trust is at low ebb when it comes to Congress and the partisanship that has both houses split almost evenly.

It’s hard to imagine how intense the lobbying will be when trillions of dollars are there for the taking, and how our legislators will respond to their relentless pushes. The atmosphere in the nation’s capitol is already being described as a “Christmas tree frenzy.”

At this point, the only thing we know, that we didn’t know before, is that this president will never be faulted for doing too little, as was Mr. Trump with his response to the pandemic and Mr. Biden’s old boss, Barack Obama, for doing too little to emerge from the Great Recession. Mr. Biden is also savvy enough to know that if he is to avoid losing control of the House or Senate in 2022 voters will need to feel content and confident as to the nation’s direction. Nothing soothes more than people thinking their pocketbooks and potholes are being filled.

The president already enjoys strong support for his American Rescue Plan [75 percent overall and 60 percent among Republicans.] They support his handling of the Covid pandemic. And his favorability ratings are substantially better than any enjoyed by former President Trump. The infrastructure plan is his way to build upon his and his party’s popularity.

It will take months before Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan makes it through Congress; if it does at all. But should it pass, and should it include anything close to what the president unveiled with is “once in a generation” proposal this week, then all 50 states will begin to line up for their part of the package. Not a bad sound track for Democrats.

Are there concerns? Absolutely. The government has done a reasonable job in providing the money for public goods — like roads and schools — but its experience in allocating investment capital is spotty. Typically the markets are more nimble, and successful in picking the best industries, technology, etc. There is reason to be skeptical.

And how does Vermont figure into all this?

Any money for our roads and bridges help. The billions proposed for chip manufacturing could benefit GlobalFoundries in Essex. Money for public schools and community colleges could not be better timed. Water infrastructure could include help on Lake Champlain pollution. And the $400 billion for the “care economy” [providing for the disabled and elderly] could have an outsized benefit to Vermont given we are the second oldest state in the nation. There is also the sizable investment in bringing broadband to our rural areas.

When the potential of the president’s infrastructure spending is coupled with the $1.3 billion in stimulus money already on its way, it’s a bit overwhelming. In a good way. If we demonstrate the vision to invest it properly.

by Emerson Lynn

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