As the nation recovers from a medical and financial calamity, we are finally nearing a point of relative economic stability after a year of more than $5 trillion in spending to keep the economy afloat. But with Congress on the verge of passing a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill we risk dealing a catastrophic blow to an already frail financial system. Before we empty the country’s pocketbook and snatch funding from future priorities, we desperately need to consider the consequences of passing the largest spending bill in U.S. history.
With the U.S. national debt above $28.8 trillion and the country set to default on its obligations by mid-October if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, our near-term economic future is anything but certain. If Congress fails to reach a compromise and the nation defaults on its debt, we could be instantly plunged into another recession, with the potential loss of 6 million jobs. Even without the doomsday scenario of a default, we still risk an economic downturn from a rise in cases from the delta variant and other strains of the virus. As the world has painfully learned over the past 18 months, failing to plan ahead has dire consequences, and maximizing our spending now could easily lead to a lack of funding for unforeseen crises in the future.
Although the $3.5 trillion figure on the infrastructure bill already seems immense, the even more concerning number is $24,000, the amount of spending in the proposal per U.S. taxpayer. The vague plans put forth by the Biden administration to increase the corporate tax rate by 7% and capital gains rate by 19.6% would not only fail to raise enough revenue to cover the full cost of the bill but would greatly weaken American small businesses in the process. The cost of this spending would ultimately fall on middle-class taxpayers and the next generation of Americans, who will be burdened by two decades of reckless spending on both sides of the aisle.
Yet another major risk comes from inflation. After the $5 trillion injected into the economy during the pandemic, the economy is dangerously overheated, with the August Consumer Price Index rose 5.3% year over year, making it increasingly likely inflation is here to stay. Since wages aren’t rising fast enough to meet ever-ballooning prices, this increase is imposing a tremendous cost on the lower and middle classes. Since last year, the price of food has risen 3.7%, energy and utilities 25% and gasoline an astronomical 42.7%. Recklessly flooding the economy with another $3.5 trillion could prove devastating to families already struggling to pay their bills.
Meanwhile, the $3.5 trillion price tag of the bill is composed of a hodgepodge of items that don’t fit the Merriam-Webster definition of “infrastructure,” giving the appearance that the bill was reverse-engineered from its eye-catching cost. As opposed to the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the Senate and set to be voted on in the U.S. House, the $3.5 trillion bill splurges on many partisan priorities that don’t address the dire needs of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The $1.2 trillion bill offers once-in-a-generation upgrades at a fraction of the price, with $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for railroads, $47 billion to address looming climate disasters and even $7.5 billion to make electric vehicle charging stations ubiquitous. This bill is not only a win for American workers, the environment and infrastructure but a victory for bipartisanship and unity. On the other hand, the $3.5 trillion bill includes partisan priorities such as universal preschool, free community college, expanded child care credits and an expansion of the Affordable Care Act. While all positive ideas in theory, these scarcely constitute imminent crises or “infrastructure” needs. In practice, this wish list of programs would bring more harm than benefit to America, boosting inflation and indebting the nation while fixing few significant issues for everyday citizens.
In a time where America is more polarized than ever and our lawmakers can’t seem to agree on anything, now is not the time to sow our increasing division with a controversial plan that puts our economic future at risk. Instead, our lawmakers should follow the example of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has called for a “strategic pause” in government spending until our economy is healthy again. By opting instead to pass the bipartisan $1.2 trillion bill, we can find common ground and work together to rebuild our nation, proving that despite our differences, Americans are still capable of coming together to drive real progress. Let’s all hope that Congress makes the responsible decision.
Nikhil Sharma is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.