“You Need Water to Live”: Pete Buttigieg Explains Infrastructure to Republicans

The GOP governor of South Dakota had complained that Biden’s infrastructure plan would fund “housing and pipes.”

In this Feb. 5, 2021, file photo Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks at Union Station in Washington. Two months into his job, Buttigieg is forging a fresh path for his Cabinet role and in his life that could bridge gaps with Republicans when it comes to President Joe Biden’s agenda.Carolyn Kaster/AP

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There are people out there who are apparently confused about the meaning of the word “infrastructure,” so let’s help them out, shall we?

According to dictionary.com, there are three definitions of “infrastructure,” which is a noun. There’s “the basic, underlying framework or features of a system or organization.” There’s “the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants, and schools.” And there’s “the military installations of a country.”

To help explain the concept, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg made the rounds on the Sunday political shows. “There’s a lot more than roads and bridges that are part of infrastructure,” he told George Stephanopoulos, who had asked him about the widely repeated Republican talking point that “only about 5 percent” of President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure proposal “goes for traditional roads and bridges.”

“I heard the governor of South Dakota recently saying, ‘This isn’t infrastructure—it’s got money for pipes,'” Buttigieg said. “Well, we believe that pipes are infrastructure, because you need water to live, and too many families now live with the threat of lead poisoning.”

Clean water for Americans! What a concept! He went on to note that broadband internet also counts as infrastructure, particularly in rural areas—makes sense, in the age of school and work via Zoom—as do electric vehicle charging stations.

Buttigieg was referring to remarks made by South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem on Fox News’ Hannity Wednesday night. “I was on a call with the White House today with all of the governors talking about the specifics of this package, and I was shocked by how much doesn’t go into infrastructure,” she said. “It goes into research and development. It goes into housing and pipes and different initiatives, green energy.”

Infrastructure: the basic, underlying framework or features of a system or organization.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Buttigieg said that the United States is “still coasting on infrastructure choices that were made in the 1950s.” 

“Now’s our chance to make infrastructure choices for the future that are going to serve us well in the 2030s and onto the middle of the century, when we will be judged for whether we meet this moment here in the 2020s,” he said. 

As for the cost of the plan and who will pay for it—a key point of contention among Republicans—the Biden administration has been adamant that “nobody making under $400,000 a year will have their taxes increased,” as press secretary Jen Psaki said last month. The idea is that corporations that have avoided fair taxation for decades will pay for the lion’s share. “We’re just asking corporations to pay their fair share at a rate, by the way, that would be lower than it’s been for most of my life,” Buttigieg said on Meet the Press. “There is a clear vision to pay for this bill in full.”

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