- South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem told Fox News pipes and housing don’t count as infrastructure.
- Her comments sum up the GOP’s messaging that infrastructure only means roads and bridges.
- Biden’s plan argues for a broad rethink of what constitutes infrastructure, and the GOP doesn’t want that.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden unveiled the first part of his $4 trillion infrastructure package on Wednesday, and almost immediately a host of Republican lawmakers criticized the bill for allocating funds to measures not specifically related to physical infrastructure, such as climate change and research initiatives.
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem was one of them, but she offered an unorthodox definition of physical infrastructure: one that doesn’t include pipes.
In an interview on Thursday, Noem discussed the president’s infrastructure bill with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and as the interview progressed, she elaborated on her definition of infrastructure, saying housing doesn’t qualify either.
“I was shocked by how much doesn’t go into infrastructure,” Noem said. “It goes into research and development, it goes into housing and pipes and different initiatives, green energy, and it’s not really an honest conversation that we’re having about what this proposal is.”
Shortly after the interview aired, critics on Twitter highlighted the “pipes” comment in particular, and left-leaning media figures were especially critical. For instance, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan said Noem had “revealed she doesn’t know what infrastructure is.”
-Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) April 1, 2021
While Noem’s criticism of the bill was likely the most striking on the Republican side, her party has been unified in trying to label the bill as a Democratic “Trojan Horse,” sneaking non-infrastructure things into an infrastructure plan.
In a statement on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the “Trojan Horse” comparison and said that while Biden could have drafted a “serious, targeted infrastructure plan” that could have received bipartisan support, “the latest liberal wish-list the White House has decided to label ‘infrastructure’ is a major missed opportunity by this Administration.” The next day, McConnell said the the bill will not get any Republican support, at least not in the Senate.
Both McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have trotted out a key statistic to make this point: 6%, as in, less than 6% of Biden’s proposal is dedicated to roads and bridges.
The truth is that things in the plan outside of that 6% are plausibly related to infrastructure, just not a 20th-century understanding of it. McConnell’s statement highlights that Biden “would spend more money just on electric cars than on America’s roads, bridges, ports, airports, and waterways combined.”
But the White House fact sheet released on Wednesday ahead of Biden’s unveiling of the plan makes the case that it’s time to rethink infrastructure. It notes that the 1936 Rural Electrification Act involved a federal investment in bringing electricity to nearly every home in the US, and it’s time to do the same for broadband internet and electric vehicles. Republicans are saying they don’t want to have that rethink.
Some Republican voters seem open to it, more than half of them in some cases. Insider’s Juliana Kaplan reported on Friday that Republicans and Democrats’ definitions of infrastructure may be different in large part because of regional political polarization, but that even so, a Morning Consult/Politico poll shows significant levels of support among Republican voters for funding low-income housing, among other things.
But regardless of the consistency of Republican rhetoric on Biden’s infrastructure plan, the comments serve to illustrate the likely legislative outcome: zero Republican votes for it. This multitrillion-dollar plan may end up the same as Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus, which didn’t get a single vote in the House or the Senate.