The United States federal budget totals more than $6 trillion a year. It is high time more of that money benefits women and children, families and the planet.
President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda, known as Build Back Better, could be as life changing in America as the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression. The massive spending plan comes in two parts.
Part one is the kind of government spending that is an easy sell for most politicians. Physical infrastructure includes construction projects, such as a new highway or memorial bridge delivered to their constituents or repairs to America’s crumbling railroads, airports, water and sewer systems. Part one of the Biden proposal passed the Senate with both Republican and Democratic votes.
Part two of the agenda is the kind of government service every other industrialized nation on earth delivers to its citizens. The United States just can’t seem to do this, or, at least, it doesn’t in any but the most tattered, stingy, uncoordinated ways.
Part two proposes paying for soft infrastructure, human infrastructure, the kinds of things women have historically done without pay.
The pandemic showed us why ignoring human infrastructure isn’t working any more. Families need the incomes of both men and women. Companies need both men and women to be available to fill their jobs, especially as the country faces a tsunami of retirements.
Paid family leave would make it easier for Americans to care for sick children or elderly parents. Daycare and preschool for young children would allow all Americans equal access to the starting gate of lifelong learning.
Allowing the government to negotiate drug prices would help control American health care costs, the highest of any industrialized nation.
Part two has not been an easy sell. The initial $3.5 trillion price tag seems too scary.
The Biden Administration has done a poor job of explaining how the total would be spread over 10 years. While $350 billion still sounds like a big number, it’s not when compared to the $700 billion spent annually on the military, or to the $21 trillion U.S. economy.
Opposition to the price tag has already whittled the number down. The point should not be dollars, but sense.
It makes sense for the United States to finally focus on families and not just concrete and steel. It makes sense to spend on education and new sustainable energy solutions and not just weapons of war. It makes sense to create jobs and not just cut taxes.
Physical and human infrastructure are flipsides of a coin Congress should stop fiddling with and change lives for the better instead.
“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.