Domestic Policy, Infrastructure

Building Back Unified

Road Sign from the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway

It goes without saying that I appreciate the value of highways. Fundamentally, they are the basis on land of the great network of trade routes which go to make up civilization.

Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in in the Montana Guidebook to the Theodore Roosevelt International Highway, 1921

A nation’s transportation network is among its most important sources of economic and geopolitical strength. Few knew this better than Theodore Roosevelt and so it was fitting that the first transcontinental highway was christened with his name after TR’s death in 1919 (see this guidebook from the Montana portion).  It was the precursor of the numbered US Highway system and eventually the Interstate Highway system. All of those projects were designed to unify America and brought Americans together through the experience of travel.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill recently agreed to between President Biden and the Congress is in the tradition of this drive for national unity.  The new bill addresses the sorry state of many of our roads, ports and other critical infrastructure while leaving more controversial issues for later legislation. It authorizes $550 billion in new money over five years along with another $500 billion in previously authorized expenditures (hence the $1 trillion price tag referenced in some news reports). Specifically, the new money will be spent in the following areas:

Transportation– $284 billion to be spent to repair roads, bridges, ports and railways

Utilities– $243 billion for upgrading electric power infrastructure and replacing old pipe to stop lead from leaching into municipal water systems. It also includes $55 billion to extend broadband Internet service to rural communities, which is desperately needed to spur healthy economic development here in the Western states.

Environmental Cleanup – The Superfund program for cleaning up hazardous waste sites, mines and wells has been moribund due to lack of funding. This bill would re-invigorate the program with $21 billion to begin this process anew.

Coincidentally, the $550 billion is almost the same amount spent to build the Interstate Highway System (in 1950’s and 60’s dollars). 

The President’s original proposal was a whopping $2.6 trillion that tried to force through Congress various human needs and climate change programs under the popular brand of “infrastructure”.  Much of this is necessary, but the attempt to enact it through under a deceptive title was divisive and ultimately futile. Both President Biden and the bipartisan group of senators should be congratulated for opting for a unifying bill instead.

The new compromise also grasps the nettle of insuring this program to strengthen our nation does not  weaken it by adding to the budget deficit. It would be financed by almost 500 billion in revenue transfers and new revenues, such as reinstating the Superfund tax on the chemical industry and tightening tax rules on cryptocurrency trading.   A plan to beef up tax enforcement on the wealthy that could have brought in as much as $100 billion was unfortunately dropped but may be included in a bill on the human needs legislation. 

After excoriating Republicans for being obstructionist, it is ironic to see the Democratic House leadership trying to obstruct this bill to compel the adoption of the more controversial climate change and social welfare spending through the budget reconciliation bill.  Our families and neighborhoods need help, but federal dollars will only paper over the underlying problems.  Immigration reform, reshoring manufacturing and education reform will do more in the long term to solve them.  Many Democrats and Republicans believe this as well.  The House leadership should join them rather than their Democratic Socialist wing and unify around this bill as the Theodore Roosevelt Highway and similar infrastructure programs of the past unified the country. 

2020 Election, Domestic Policy, Government, Politics

An American Nationalist Voting Index – A Strong America

This is part of a series examining the issues in the presidential election. To see other articles in the series, click on the “2020 Elections” link above.

Score

Biden -1.5 Trump -1

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is an impressive tool of American power, as is the rest of our armed forces.  However, a nation’s strength springs more from its internal stability than its military power. Without a strong American economy and people, the big stick would be an empty husk.  We would look strong on the outside, but would not have the full range of soft, social and economic power necessary to withstand a sustained challenge.  The issues affecting our strength to do so are diverse and worrisome.

Defense

The Trump Administration has increased defense spending almost every year and has proposed a significant increase in naval capacity.  The Pentagon has also begun pivoting strategy away from anti- terrorism to the great power threats of Russia and China.  Trump also recognized the importance of space exploration and development through supporting NASA and establishing the Space Force. However, the execution of this strategy is still foggy, and the swamp of defense procurement has yet to be addressed. Thus, Trump receives a +.5.

Biden has concentrated on measures to improve service members housing and benefits, which is certainly important.  Otherwise, he and other Democrats have talked about modernizing the force by retiring weapons systems and spending less. Modernization is necessary, but their murky statements on the subject cannot support anything other than a zero rating.

Infrastructure

Trump won the 2016 election on the three I’s – infrastructure, immigration, and international relations. While he made measurable progress in advancing the nationalist agenda on the last two, he has miserably failed to accomplish anything on the first.  It is true that the administration has relaxed some environmental rules that slowed down projects. However, this is not enough to repair our crumbling roads, bridges and ports.  He deserves a zero for this failure.

Biden has a relatively specific plan for an infrastructure program, though it features green projects as much as traditional transportation projects. Moreover, Democrats have made assurances that all projects would be subject to strict environmental review and thus dilatory litigation. Nevertheless, his plan earns him a +.5 for its detail. 

Reducing the Budget Deficit and a Strong Dollar

The use of the American dollar as the world’s reserve currency is one of our greatest sources of international power.  It helps protect us from inflation and makes American economic sanctions more effective, thus reducing the need for military action. To maintain this power, our national debt and budget deficit must remain under control so we don’t flood the world with dollar-denominated bonds.

This power is threatened by our increasing national debt, which has exceeded our annual gross domestic product since 2013.  The World Bank calculated that a debt level above 77% retards economic growth The Trump tax cuts increased the deficit and the rate of growth of the debt. Meanwhile, Biden has proposed billions of dollars of new programs with only a modest tax increase to pay for them. Both candidates are courting a Greek-style financial crisis from which America might never recover and each deserves a -1 for this fiscal profligacy.

Decoupling from China

Our dangerous dependence on China for vital materials was laid bare during the early days of the novel coronavirus pandemic when we discovered that the manufacturing of masks, ventilators and other vital health materials had largely been outsourced to the Chinese.  Much of the rare earth minerals necessary for solar panels and defense production also comes from China. President Trump’s tariffs began the process of shoring up our manufacturing sector and so rate a +.5.  In contrast, much of this unhealthy dependence developed under the Obama Administration and Biden has belittled the economic threat from China.  This justifies a -.5 score for him. 

Political Violence

As serious as the above issues are, they are dwarfed by the increasing threat of political violence on the left and right. A recent poll showed almost 33% of Democrats and Republicans believe that violence would be justified if their candidate lost the election.  The very legitimacy of our democracy is in the balance.

 Unfortunately, both candidates stoked these violent trends in the past.   President Trump has shamefully encouraged white nationalist groups and the QAnon conspiracy movement but acted forcefully against left-wing rioters in Portland and elsewhere. However, his express statements encouraging white nationalist groups requires a -1 score.

On the other hand, Biden was part of an Obama Administration that tacitly encouraged a ragtag group of Native Americans and radical environmentalists to block construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline even after the courts rejected all of their objections.  This toleration of lawlessness to achieve their policy goals on climate change encouraged the growth of Antifa and violent urban protests.  Biden has since criticized the current violence.  However, we need a President who unequivocally rejects political violence of all kinds and Biden’s equivocations deserves a -.5.

Conclusion

America can be strong only if it’s people are strong. The development of strength requires sacrifice and commitment, yet neither candidate is truly committed to that goal.  If we cannot find the will to build and maintain our true sources of national strength, the nation that produced Theodore Roosevelt will disappear into history, perhaps with democracy itself.