"Proper price tag"? McConnell ups ante on infrastructure to $800 billion

“What we’ve got here can best be described as a bait and switch,” Mitch McConnell tells his public-television interviewer about the Democrats’ $2.25 trillion infrastructure package. The Senate Minority Leader might be trying the same thing in a different fashion. McConnell ups the GOP’s bid from $600 billion to $800 billion even before negotiations start, seemingly unaware of the historic levels of spending involved:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled in a new interview that he is open to an infrastructure spending bill totaling as much as $800 billion.

“The proper price tag for what most of think about when we think about infrastructure is about [$600 billion to $800 billion],” McConnell told public television in Kentucky over the weekend. …

McConnell in the new interview highlighted a proposal set forth by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) totaling $568 billion that Republicans have said is more focused and falls within a reasonable price range.

“This is something that Congress has done for many, many years together on a bipartisan basis,” Capito said when introducing the plan. “Our focus today is to say what our concepts are as Republicans [about] what infrastructure means, what our principles are in terms of pay-fors and to say to President Biden and his team and our Democrat colleagues: ‘We’re ready to sit down and get to work on this.’ “

The “proper price tag” is still eye-popping, and not just because Congress has already spent trillions of dollars off the books on COVID-19 relief. The last package also cost $2 trillion and consisted of the same hobby-horse agenda items about which McConnell complains here. At least this time McConnell’s talking about “pay-fors,” but his idea on that score is to raise the gas tax — which would be directly tied to use, but also would be a force multiplier for inflation that would significantly raise prices in the middle of a price-increase squeeze on consumers.

Furthermore, the new bid is eerily reminiscent of the debate from twelve years ago over stimulus and infrastructure. Remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009? It promised to restore American infrastructure through funding of “shovel-ready jobs” that would create millions of new jobs for American workers. That also cost $800 billion in the end, while Barack Obama’s advisers urged the president to spend as much as $2 trillion on hobby-horse items. The ARRA, which had more than its fair share of pork at the lower figure as well, didn’t do anything except accelerate road repairs already on schedules and funnel taxpayer funds into a series of green-energy boondoggles like Solyndra that went bust.

McConnell’s correct that Joe Biden’s “infrastructure” plan is a bait-and-switch. So too is Republican professions of fiscal responsibility.