Biden seeks a new view of infrastructure, far beyond asphalt

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A ConEd substation in Brooklyn is part of New York's infrastructure, Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in New York. With an appeal to think big, President Joe Biden is promoting his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan directly to Americans. Republicans oppose Biden's American Jobs Plan as big taxes, big spending and big government. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is giving himself lots of latitude when he defines infrastructure for the purpose of spending money on it. It’s not just steel, but home health care workers. Not just excavating dirt, but building “dignity.”

The Republican Party says if it’s not a pothole, port, plane or bridge, forget about it. Never mind that Donald Trump, like Biden, wanted schools to get a piece of an infrastructure pie.

At least in theory, everyone likes infrastructure and is willing to spend big on it. That’s why the definition of infrastructure matters as Biden tries to sell the country and Congress on the largest such package in generations.

In short, the bulk of Biden's plan does not fit the traditional understanding of infrastructure, meaning below the structure, or foundational. Biden and his team have performed rhetorical gymnastics to make almost everything in the package sound infrastructure-ish.

For example, strengthening the right of workers to join unions does not resemble concrete in an underpass. But a White House fact sheet argues that stronger union rights would “put in place an infrastructure to create good middle-class jobs,” an argument that could be used to justify domestic spending on lots of things. Democrats are adding another layer to the definition as they take part in a weekend event about the “care infrastructure.”

The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, has taken a strict and distorted view of what counts as infrastructure, for the purpose of scoring points against Biden.

Roads, bridges, waterways, ports and airports count, but public transit, utilities and other foundational elements of the economy and daily lives don’t, the GOP contends.

Here’s the RNC in an email Wednesday: