COLUMN: Media responsible for poisoning Biden's infrastructure bill

Jason Nichols

This week, major components of President Joe Biden's agenda will have their futures largely decided. Even if there are things that are not voted on by the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, the tallies of the votes that are taken will be indicative of the prospects of other pieces of the Biden administration's plans.

The infrastructure components of the Biden proposals are of vital importance to the nation's economic future. Donald Trump was a proponent of infrastructure spending until he was no longer in office and then, suddenly, wasn't. Organizations that represent everyone from engineers to architects, to public safety officials to transportation experts have been clamoring for significant investment in America's airports, highways, ports, schools, and other facilities. The urgent need for the resources to be provided to make those improvements becomes clearer with each passing year.

It would be convenient to blame the plateauing momentum for infrastructure spending on Donald Trump's convenient flip-flop, or political maneuvering more broadly. That would only provide part of the answer to why there is increased resistance to the self-evident need for upgrades, additions, expansions, and improvement to the country's transportation, communication, and educational capacity. The real culprit is the media.

There is substantial confusion about the proposals Biden has put forth, but the main obstacle to the public developing a full understanding of the impact of those proposals has been the media's focus on the $3.5 trillion price tag. Major media outlets have consistently failed to mention, much less appropriately emphasize, the ten-year period over which those costs would accumulate. They also fail to mention that some of those costs, from the federal government's perspective, come in the form of tax cuts that are part of the various proposals.

When coupled with the criticisms that are partisan in nature, the vagueness of the reporting on the proposals poses a threat to the passage of bills that would provide the resources that would help the United States maintain its economic lead over other nations whose economies are rapidly expanding. Because valuable perspective is being omitted from news reports, the odds that the generally recognized need for infrastructure improvements will not be addressed.

That must not be allowed to happen. Even if the infrastructure and investment plans were to fall short in the upcoming votes, it would be reassuring to know that alternate, and perhaps even better, plans would be put forward based on facts and the undeniable reality that a plan is needed. But if it fails because the well has been poisoned, not just because of political wrangling, but because the media neglected to point out some obviously relevant and important information, then it could be years before there is sufficient support for another ambitious strategy for enhancing the economic backbone of the nation. It may even interfere with the ability to propose smaller, more incremental plans as well.

The pandemic will come to an end soon. The Delta variant provided a temporary extension of it, but science, technology, doctors, and public health efforts will ultimately prevail. It is time to start thinking about the direction of the nation's economy in a post-pandemic world. Joe Manchin wanted a "strategic pause" in those types of considerations. But the longer the wait, the larger the problem will be when we finally unify enough to tackle the problem.

Of course, legislation should not be rushed or passed under duress. Urgency can be conveyed without sounding like an ultimatum is being given. However, it must be repeated that the issue is urgent. There are significant, and increasing, opportunity costs that come with each delay.

Jason Nichols is a former District 2 Democratic Party chair, an instructor of political science at Northeastern State University, and former mayor of Tahlequah.

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