It’s hard to call a plan that spends $275 billion in taxpayer dollars over five years “modest” and keep a straight face. But that may be the best way to describe the proposal Hillary Clinton unveiled on Monday to upgrade the nation’s ailing infrastructure.
Clinton’s blueprint is certainly broad in scope: It aims to bolster not only roads and bridges but also public transit, freight rail, airports, broadband Internet, and water systems. It’s the most expensive domestic policy proposal she’s made to date. And when added to the nearly $300 billion Congress is poised to authorize in a new highway bill, the Clinton plan tops the $478 billion that President Obama sought for infrastructure earlier this year.
Yet the reaction from advocates of more robust infrastructure spending has been less than enthusiastic, a nod to the fact that the size of the Clinton plan falls well short of what studies have shown the country needs. “Secretary Clinton is exactly right to call her plan a ‘down payment,'” said Damon Silvers, the AFL-CIO’s director of public policy. “The reality of our infrastructure deficit is in the trillions, not billions.”
Specifically, that deficit has been pegged at $1.6 trillion—the amount of additional money governments at all levels would have to spend by 2020 to bring the nation’s infrastructure up to date, according to a widely-cited report issued two years ago by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Even Bernie Sanders didn’t make it that high, but he came a lot closer than Clinton by introducing legislation to spend $1 trillion over the next five years on infrastructure.