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Buttigieg Says $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Is A 'Common Sense Investment'

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks to Amtrak employees Feb. 5, during a visit at Union Station in Washington, D.C. In a Thursday interview with NPR's <em>Morning Edition</em>, he said not making infrastructure investment would be a "threat to American competitiveness."
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg speaks to Amtrak employees Feb. 5, during a visit at Union Station in Washington, D.C. In a Thursday interview with NPR's <em>Morning Edition</em>, he said not making infrastructure investment would be a "threat to American competitiveness."

Updated April 1, 2021 at 9:39 AM ET

President Biden calls his $2 trillion infrastructure plan a "once-in-a-generation" investment in America's future.

"It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. It will grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interests and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years," Biden said in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

As part of the plan, Biden is proposing $174 billion in spending to boost the electric vehicle market; $115 billion to repair and rebuild bridges, highways and roads; and $100 billion to expand high-speed broadband.

In an interview with NPR's Morning Edition on Thursday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the plan a "common sense investment" that is "fully paid for" and will reduce the budget deficit over time. Not making that investment would be a "threat to American competitiveness," he said.

The plan's emphasis on boosting electric vehicles is critical, Buttigieg said, because "time is running out" in the fight against climate change.

Following are highlights of the interview.

The Biden administration proposes paying for this by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. That money would be spent over the next eight years, but it would take 15 years for the tax hikes to generate the revenue you need. How is that not a problem?

Well, this is common sense investment when you think about how to fund things that are going to improve America for a generation. Over the course of that eight-year vision, we are going to be enhancing the roads and bridges of this country. We're going to be improving our ports and our airports. We're going to be delivering better transit and better rail. Those are investments whose benefits will last a lifetime and then some, and that eight years of investment is fully paid for across the 15 years of the tax adjustment, which means by year 16, it's actually going to reduce the deficit.

The Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say that raising corporate taxes will make it harder for U.S. companies to compete and thus make the U.S. less competitive in a global economy. That's a familiar argument from their camp. What's your response?

Well, I think that argument flies in the face of U.S. history. Remember, we're proposing a corporate tax rate that is lower than it was under Clinton, Obama, Bush, much lower than it was in the early Reagan years and many other times when America was very competitive. But part of what made America so competitive was that we had some of the best infrastructure in the world. Today, we are still coasting off infrastructure investments that were made more than a lifetime ago and are beginning to fall apart. The biggest threat to American competitiveness is continuing to believe that we can have a world-leading economy with third-rate infrastructure. And I think that's something most Americans get.

This proposal addresses things like roads, bridges, the electrical grid, broadband Internet. It would also expand home medical care. There's money for community-based violence prevention programs. There's money to create jobs to prevent future pandemics. How do you respond to the criticism that these things are just not infrastructure?

These things are good policy, and they are part of the broad infrastructure that is needed in order to make America not just competitive, but a good place to live. We know that we've got to do more for our care workers, our care economy. That's another common sense move. And one of the things I really admire about this plan and the president's vision is understanding how a lot of different things are closely connected. You know, some people are saying, "well, you know, these aren't roads and bridges" and I'm the transportation guy, so I'm all about roads and bridges. But something like broadband infrastructure is absolutely part of the future of American infrastructure. I guess trains probably weren't considered infrastructure until we really started building railroads. Now they're an indispensable part of it. And we have to keep up with, not always be playing catch-up to, that kind of expansion about what infrastructure needs really look like.

I think the criticism is directed at things like community-based programs to prevent violence. The argument is, are you not just taking everything that you want to invest in and calling it infrastructure?

This is about the foundation on which Americans live. And obviously I'm focused on the huge shot in the arm that this represents for transportation infrastructure. But we've got to think about our broader social infrastructure that keeps this country moving, keeps this country safe, makes it possible to live well for American citizens. And suggesting that there's something wrong with a bill that does good things because it does more good things, you know, it's a bit like suggesting that the rescue plan that helped us defeat COVID was somehow bad because it's going to lift half a million children out of poverty. Look, we are weaker when we don't take care of these foundational issues. COVID exposed that. We've got to make sure this is a more resilient country in every respect.

The proposal would give tax credits and rebates to consumers and governments for shifting to electric vehicles. It also would spend billions of dollars to get state and local governments to build charging stations for electric vehicles. The auto industry broadly is already moving toward electric vehicles. Why give so many incentives? Why not just let industry move forward in the direction that it's already going?

Well, it's really exciting to see industry moving this way, but we also know that we're in a race against time. Time is running out in the fight against climate change. And frankly, we've got to pick up the pace. Another thing to consider, especially with these chargers, is that we need to have a nationwide network of charging infrastructure for people to be able to buy electric vehicles with confidence, at least some drivers who are going long distances. It is great that the cost of electric vehicles is going down each year and could even be a savings when you count the fuel expenses you're going to not pay. But there's still a lot of people who experience what's called range anxiety as maybe the No. 1 reason not to go electric. We've got to fix that. And these charging stations will help.

This package has been characterized as a clear rebuke to the idea that the forces of a free market can jumpstart a badly hurting economy. Now, this country has spent the past 40 years doubling down on free markets. Do you see this as a kind of generational shift in thinking?

Certainly from the perspective of my generation, and I was born right about the time of the beginning of that experiment, we can say that that experiment failed. It turns out that if you systematically disinvest in the things that we need to thrive, especially when it comes to core infrastructure, there are consequences to that. America is 13th now — 13th. We ought to be first when it comes to transportation infrastructure and a lot of our other indicators of quality of life, even length of life, just how long Americans live, are not befitting the leading nation in the world. Now's our chance to change that and do it in a sensible way. And the remarkable thing is, you know, maybe compared to other moments in American history, it feels like the American people are already there. We're just trying to get Washington to follow suit.

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