Home > Essays > Biden Wants to Build Roads, Bridges and Schools… so Does the GOP… and so Does Corporate America… But THEY Don’t Want to Pay for It

Biden Wants to Build Roads, Bridges and Schools… so Does the GOP… and so Does Corporate America… But THEY Don’t Want to Pay for It

April 25, 2021

This is a copy of my most recent op ed column, which explains the bind businesses and the GOP find themselves in since they don’t want to pay for programs supported by a majority of voters.

Over the past several days, my newsfeed is full of articles on two seemingly unrelated topics: the recently enacted election laws in Georgia and the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden. A closer look at these topics, though, reveals that they share one thing in common: they place the GOP and corporate America on the wrong side of issues that have wide public support. 

A recent NYTimes article by David Gelles described the bind corporate leaders faced in Georgia where the GOP Governor and GOP controlled Georgia legislature drafted a bill that made it much more difficult to cast ballots in predominantly Black precincts where Biden prevailed over Trump by wide margins. Initially, the CEOs of Delta Airlines and Coca Cola, both headquartered in Atlanta, tried to stay out of the flap over this controversial voting bill. But once it became clear to Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Airlines, that the proposed voting bill would create a hardship on the ability of his workforce to vote and the criticism of local civil rights and religious leaders was tarnishing his corporation’s reputation, he took action. Mr. Bastian issued a public statement expressing Delta’s “general support for voting rights” and worked behind-the-scenes to pressure legislators in Georgia to remove especially egregious elements of the proposed law. Once the bill passed and was signed by the Governor, It quickly became clear to Mr. Bastian and other corporate leaders in Atlanta that the compromises they pushed to have included in the original bill were not sufficient. A bloc of black business leaders from across the country joined the bloc of moral and civic leaders in Georgia protesting the law. They called for the corporate leaders in Georgia to take a stand in opposition to the bill and ultimately, both the CEOs of Delta and Coca Cola issued a statement denouncing the passage of Georgia’s voting law. Late last week, these Atlanta businesses were joined by over 100 national corporations AND Major League Baseball in denouncing Georgia’s law, with Major League baseball moving the All-Star game from Atlanta to Colorado. 

The GOP pushback to this corporate rejection of Georgia’s law was swift and predictable. Mitch McConnell, the GOP’s Senate leader, objected to businesses interposing their “woke” ethos into politics and threatened to retaliate in some form. But how he and the GOP would “retaliate” was unclear and the hollow threat provided fodder for left-leaning pundits. To retaliate, would the GOP support the higher taxes the Democrats are seeking to address infrastructure upgrades? Would the GOP support increased regulations on corporations to address climate change? Would the GOP support legislation to help workers unionize in “right to work” states like Georgia? Would the GOP work to repeal Citizens United so that corporations are no longer viewed as individuals? Given the GOP’s strong support for legislation favored by corporate America it was difficult to imagine exactly what they would do to “punish” corporations without simultaneously supporting issues that the Democrats typically advocate. The GOP’s threat of retaliation was off the table 48 hours later. 

The GOP and corporate America face a similar predicament when it comes to President Biden’s infrastructure legislation: the American Jobs Plan. Like the public, both the GOP and corporate America want to see the infrastructure improved. In 2016 President Trump’s platform called for a trillion dollar investment on infrastructure and corporations invariably seek government funding or tax breaks to improve roadways, septic, and water access when they are looking for sites to locate factories and offices. However, the GOP expressed concern over Mr. Biden’s broader definition of “infrastructure”, his higher price tag, and, most of all, his source of funding. The GOP does not support raising corporate taxes, clawing back profits shifted overseas, raising taxes on the top 2%, or redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to green energy infrastructure projects. These are also an anathema to most corporations and their shareholders. But since these revenue sources would not have a direct impact on 98% of the population the general public views them as an acceptable way to pay for the projects in the American Jobs Plan. 

This bind that the GOP and corporate America faces is, in part, a result of a change in the voters perspective as a result of our shared experience with the pandemic and, in part, the result of the election of an experienced politician to office. 

We’ve all spent the last year sharing in the suffering of the pandemic. Some have contracted the disease or lost loved ones. Others have missed the company of work colleagues and classmates. All of us have experienced some degree of loneliness and disruption to our routines. We have also witnessed the important role government must play in solving complicated problems and witnessed the importance of working together on things we can agree on and letting go of differences that cannot be reconciled. 

This emerging consensus of communitarian spirit led voters to choose President Biden, the ultimate politician, over Donald Trump, the ultimate my-way-or-the-highway leader. NY Times writer Ezra Klein described Joe Biden as a politician who senses what the country wants, intuits what people will and won’t accept, and then works within those boundaries. When public sentiment was “government is bad and individual freedom is more important than community building” Biden divined that sentiment and worked within those boundaries. Now that we’ve all witnessed the important role government must play in solving complicated problems and seen the value of working together on things we can agree on, Biden is responding to THAT sentiment. 

The American Jobs Act is far from passed. President Biden has opened the door to dialogue on the definition of “infrastructure” and the method of payment for that infrastructure. But he wants government to solve the problem of infrastructure because he senses that is what the public wants. In the weeks ahead, that, too, will be debated. But in the end, the ultimate question is this: will corporate America and the GOP support any solution if businesses are asked to cover the costs even if such a solution is supported by the voters?

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