Can Joe lift infrastructure?

28 January 2021

‘Crumbling infrastructure’ is a term that is heard frequently in the US, particularly to describe transportation and public utilities. Perhaps ‘infrastructure crisis’ is a better term. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the US will need to spend US$4.5tr on infrastructure by 2025 to avert ‘serious economic consequences’.

We all know that infrastructure spending is key to economic recovery. But under Donald Trump the situation worsened, even though his administration put forward a US$200bn infrastructure plan. Nothing came of it. But with Trump eventually dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House, it looks like US infrastructure could receive a much-needed shot in the arm under a Biden presidency. Or will it?

Pushing the necessary legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate may not be easy, especially given the ‘sour grapes’ some senators may still harbour over the election result. Perhaps they may be persuaded by a recent survey which found that more than two thirds of Americans support the rebuilding of the nation’s infrastructure.

A further stumbling block is the coronavirus pandemic which, if it worsens appreciably, could divert White House priorities to what are deemed more pressing areas. On the plus side, Biden (‘Amtrak Joe’) is known as a supporter of rail projects and has also hinted at modernising highways, roads and light-rail networks. Under his extensive Build Back Better plan for infrastructure, the president elect wants to create millions of jobs to rebuild American infrastructure, promising a US$2tr investment over his first term to build a modern sustainable network, from roads and bridges to water systems and electricity grids. As a bonus, corporate America has indicated it would work with Biden for quick action on infrastructure. If this happens, the cash injected will come as a welcome relief for state governments still reeling from falling gas revenues resulting from the public’s general avoidance of travel during the pandemic.

Currently, it seems that the best hope of getting any meaningful legislation passed will be in the first nine months of a Biden administration. A degree of horse-trading between Democrats and Republicans could produce a bi-partisan infrastructure package in the early days of the new presidency. But it’s a tight window and 2021 could start out as a bit of a cliff hanger in that respect. We must hope and wait.

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