Opinion

The Biden Future Cannot Arrive Soon Enough

Between Kentucky and Ohio, there’s a bridge that will eventually be rebuilt and replaced. Early last year, Joe Biden flew there and stood next to Mitch McConnell and they celebrated the $1.6 billion dedicated to this bridge from the infrastructure law’s $1.2 trillion budget. Sixteen months later, $15.7 million of federal funds have been spent toward the project, while the yearslong formal process for awarding the bulk of the money continues. Billions and billions of infrastructure money is similarly slowly winding its way through various processes, but, as Politico recently reported in an in-depth look at Mr. Biden’s domestic agenda, only some of it has been actually spent.

Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, has a huge team cutting grants in the billions and has said her goal is that 20 percent of the world’s most-advanced logic semiconductors will be produced in the United States by the end of the decade, a transformative shift made possible through deals with Taiwanese and Korean-based firms and major government support to Intel. Currently the percentage produced is zero. Some of the those factories might come online next year.

In reporting about voters’ views of Mr. Biden, it’s clear that at least some think he’s hardly doing anything at all — and that if re-elected, there might be no change. In the way the Biden campaign talks sometimes, they make it sound like manufacturing is already booming. He’s trapped in an in-between: Bigger changes are coming, the things people said they wanted are coming, but not for years.

Dispersing funds on this scale takes years. To rewire international chip production takes years. To rebuild a bridge often takes years. Companies announce they will build factories to build chips and solar panels, and at a certain point, but not quite now, they very likely will. Someday, years from now, a new bridge will exist. In the intervening years, people will just have to imagine the bridge. Who feels the presence of a factory that isn’t yet there?

The Mr. Biden of 2020 was right; he could get Congress to pass major pieces of legislation. The CHIPS Act really might recalibrate chip manufacturing globally and — if fully implemented — the infrastructure and clean-energy laws will plow billions into physical and green infrastructure in the United States. This stuff is what many people said they wanted from a presidency (to make things in the U.S., to repair physical infrastructure).

But the physical results are happening on a timetable of years in the future. Even in the building trades’ recent and effusively pro-Biden, anti-Trump endorsement video, the challenge in how to perceive this agenda is framed through future-present reflection: “I think we’ll step back from where we’re at in a few years and we’ll realize how big the impact of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has been.”

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