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Phil Karsting: Biden infrastructure plan serves rural needs in many ways
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Phil Karsting: Biden infrastructure plan serves rural needs in many ways

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On Oct. 23, 2020, I penned an item in this publication asserting Joe Biden’s proposals during last year’s campaign would be better for rural communities and our farm sector. On Wednesday in Pittsburgh he proved it.

Rural priorities were mentioned no less than 29 times in the White House Fact Sheet describing Biden’s “American Jobs Plan.” But far more important than the number of mentions are the resources and the respect it shows to Americans who are struggling outside major metropolitan areas.

Biden calls for modernizing 200,000 miles of highways, roads and main-streets and specifically sets aside $20 billion over five years for smaller bridges, many in rural areas.

The plan calls for investments in waterways and coastal ports, which are critical for moving agricultural goods.

It recognizes the central role that electric cooperatives play in rural America and sets aside $10 billion to help them retire less-efficient power in favor or low-cost clean energy systems, creating jobs in the process.

And while emphatically acknowledging how important the 1936 Rural Electrification Act was for rural America, it notes that “broadband is the new electricity.” The plan commits $100 billion to close the digital divide, prioritizing networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits and rural cooperatives

Biden proposes a $10 billion Civilian Climate Corps to deliver meaningful jobs and help build resilience by conserving our public lands and water. Some in the Greatest Generation will see a parallel to a similar program from their era, known as Civilian Conservation Corps, whose work was critical to some of the public infrastructure we enjoy to this day.

Community colleges, particularly important in many rural settings, would see new investment in facilities and technology. Those investment don’t just contribute to workforce development; they give hope.

The initiative proposes $18 billion to modernize VA hospitals and clinics, the median age of which is 58 years compared to 11 for private-sector hospitals. Though not widely appreciated, rural Americans enlist in our armed forces at higher rates than their urban counterparts, and veteran health care is a big deal in rural America.

The list of potential investments is as diverse as our rural communities. And the glue that holds much of it together is a $5 billion Rural Partnership Program that will help those rural communities build capacity to identify, cultivate and leverage their own unique strengths.

Taken together, these investments hold promise to strengthen our economy and mobilize our nation to confront the great challenges of our time.

Foot draggers and naysayers may whine about cost and tax implications, suddenly giving voice to fiscal discipline conveniently suppressed during debate on 2017 corporate tax cuts.

The reality is that Biden proposes to pay for these “once in a century” investments over 15 years. He would compel multinational corporations to pay more on profits earned and booked overseas and raise the corporate tax rate to 28% (a level still substantially lower than the rate paid prior to the 2017 tax bill.) Corporations which bring jobs back to America would see tax benefits. Biden also invited Republicans to bring forth their own ideas.

Joe Biden is working hard to be president for all of America, not just red states or blue states. The American Jobs Plan is proof positive. Let’s hope other leaders in Washington are paying attention.

Phil Karsting is a Nebraska native who served on the staff of U.S. Sen. Jim Exon. He also served as administrator of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service in the Obama-Biden administration and currently serves as senior policy adviser at a law firm in Washington, D.C.

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