Just as President Joe Biden prepares to introduce a portion of his $3 trillion infrastructure, jobs and climate change package on Wednesday, a slew of lawmakers on Capitol Hill launched new pressures on the president, and they’re not Republicans.
Instead, progressive Democrats unveiled a new bill that would invest $10 trillion in renewable energy, green infrastructure and climate justice initiatives over the next ten years.
The measure, titled the Transform, Heal and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act, outlines ambitious changes to the federal infrastructure and establishes a goal of 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2035, zero emissions from new buildings by 2025, and extending clean public transit options to the majority of Americans by 2030. The plan would also mandate Congress to direct spending toward those targets.
“The THRIVE Act is the agenda that establishes the pillars for economic renewal in our country,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, told HuffPost. “This bill lays out a plan for massive job creation within the United States, so that a younger generation of Americans can think of these jobs as careers.”
Although the bill lacks specifics, as it won’t be formally introduced until April, it aims to create more than 15.5 million jobs per year and end unemployment, according to an analysis by the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute.
The THRIVE Act would also direct at least $1 trillion over the next ten years to slowly transition the United States from fossil fuels to a more environmentally sustainable alternative, replacing corroded water systems and boosting benefits for home care workers, among other items. The bill also focuses on racial inequality, pushing at least 40 percent of federal government investments to some of the worst-polluted parts of the countries that have been “excluded, oppressed and harmed by racist unjust practices,” including underserved communities of color.
“The people that were the glue that held this society together, that held American together for the last year, were the people one year ago we didn’t think were worth paying $15 an hour,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, told HuffPost. “Coming out of COVID, people are seeing how much people are hurting, where the fractures are, and this is an opportunity we need to take advantage of."
The initial release of the bill comes as Biden will introduce details on his infrastructure proposal on Wednesday, a potentially less ambitious and expensive package compared to the THRIVE Act.
“[Ten trillion dollars] is a little under 50 percent of GDP, so that gives you a sense of the order of magnitude of change in debt to GDP this would lead to. The Thrive Act… strikes me as more aspirational than elaborate,” Stan Veuger, a resident scholar in economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said.
Veuger added, “Spending at this scale would presumably be accompanied by tax increases of a variety of types, which might reduce the impact on the debt but would come with its own problems, especially if you want to reduce the debt increase substantially.”
The spending would be on top of the $1.9 trillion spent on the recently passed coronavirus relief package, as well as the $4 trillion spent on pandemic-related needs under former President Donald Trump.
“The U.S. Debt-to-GDP ratio is already extraordinarily high, at levels comparable to those seen at the end of World War II. With interest rates so low, a debt crisis is certainly not imminent, but at some point down the road, higher interest rates will make the existing debt more costly to service. And further additions to the federal debt will drastically reduce our government's capacity to deal with future crises, economic, humanitarian or military, that might need to be met with more deficit spending,” Peter Ireland, an economics professor at Boston College, said.
But the White House’s infrastructure plan is also expected to include tax hikes to offset government spending, like raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent and increasing the income tax rate on Americans making more than $400,000, measures that will likely see pushback from Republicans.
“We've easily reached if not surpassed the level of indebtedness that is appropriate for a peacetime situation in which the pandemic is about to pass and the economy is recovering rapidly. Key Democrats in the Biden Administration and in the Senate clearly recognize this, which is why their latest push for additional spending is being accompanied by calls for higher taxes, too,” Ireland said. “But including tax increases will make their proposals even harder to sell to Americans who have struggled greatly over the past 13 months. The last thing anyone wants now is a bigger tax bill.”
It’s unlikely the THRIVE Act will see widespread success in the Senate, considering Biden is expected to face an uphill battle with members from both sides of the aisle on his $3 trillion push.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill.