Congress has passed two major infrastructure bills in the last year, but imminent needs in infrastructure funding remain. The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law chiefly focused on conventional highway programs, and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) mainly centered on energy security and combating climate change. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), over $2 trillion in much-needed infrastructure is still unfunded, including projects to address drought, affordable housing, high-speed rail, and power transmission lines. By 2039, per the ASCE, continued underinvestment at current rates will cost $10 trillion in cumulative lost GDP, more than 3 million jobs in that year, and $2.24 trillion in exports over the next 20 years.
Particularly urgent today is infrastructure to counteract the record-breaking drought in the U.S. Southwest, where 50% of the nation’s food supply is grown. Subsidies for such things as the purchase of electric vehicles, featured in the IRA, will pad the coffers of the industries lobbying for them but will not get water to our parched farmlands any time soon. More direct action is needed. But as noted by Todd Tucker in a Roosevelt Institute article, “Today, a gridlocked and austerity-minded Congress balks at appropriating sufficient money to ensure emergency readiness. … [T]he US system of government’s numerous veto points make emergency response harder than under parliamentary or authoritarian systems.”
There are, however, other ways to finance these essential projects. “A work-around,” says Tucker, “is so-called off-balance sheet money creation.” That was the approach taken in the 1930s, when commercial banks were bankrupt and the country faced its worst-ever economic depression; yet the government succeeded in building infrastructure as never before.