The tedious media debate over the meaning of “infrastructure”

CNN screenshot

The media debate over the $2 billion American Jobs Plan that President Joe Biden rolled out last week is getting bogged down in a tedious discussion over what, precisely, constitutes “infrastructure.” Republicans and right-wing propagandists have fixated on the inane talking point that too much of the bill goes to policies beyond the “roads and bridges” that they claim constitute infrastructure, and too many journalists at mainstream outlets have taken their bait.

There are a lot of reasons reporters should not seriously entertain this critique. “Infrastructure,” as Biden noted in a Wednesday speech, is a malleable term whose meaning has expanded over time. The plan’s GOP critics are acting in bad faith, as they have previously described many of the policies they complain were included in the plan, like broadband and skills training, as “infrastructure.” The White House proposal is called the American Jobs Plan, not the American Infrastructure Plan, which clearly suggests that it includes items that are not, strictly speaking, infrastructure. And there’s a tradition of including a wide array of proposals in large bills that may be passed under reconciliation rules.

My argument is somewhat different: Who cares?

A new Morning Consult poll shows that the individual planks included in the American Jobs Plan -- from the core “infrastructure” spending on roads and bridges to more tangentially connected policies like increased funding for elder care -- are broadly popular.


Do reporters think there are real human beings who actually care about whether the policies in the bill, strictly speaking, constitute infrastructure? Are there people out there who they think support increased spending for modernizing veterans’ hospitals, but not if it’s included in an infrastructure bill? 

There’s real value in journalists assessing the components of the plan. The public needs information about the problems it seeks to solve, and whether it is sufficient to do so.

But Republicans and their propagandists are trying to sidetrack the debate over crucial policies with total nonsense because they have no actual plans to provide concrete benefits to the public. Journalists shouldn’t help them do it.