A federal bill for infrastructure is unlikely to be a surprise to many. The news that Democrats and Republicans have reached a $1 trillion agreement on infrastructure, which includes $550 billion in new spending is huge. This could directly and indirectly impact Americans' lives.
It includes many measures that will benefit current and future generations, including a significant expansion of high-speed Internet, spending on roads, bridges and public transit, as well as funding for clean drinking waters. New measures would be included to combat climate change. These include money for electric cars and modernizing power grids.
The second is that the Senate could soon be able to pass a bigger, more ambitious bill. This could make a huge difference in people's daily lives. The bipartisan agreement will allow moderate Democrats to vote in favor of a bill that Congress can pass with just Democratic support if it passes.
That second bill would focus in large part on President Joe Biden's "human infrastructure" agenda: expanding the child tax credits, establishing paid family and medical leave, funding universal preschool and free community college, and further action on climate change. These are all things that will have a significant impact on people's daily lives. They would also fund the largest expansion of social welfare programs in history, since the Great Society (which included Medicare and Medicaid) established by former President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.
It is not certain that Biden will sign these measures. The bipartisan agreement passed the Senate early vote 67-32 with 17 Republicans joining. The Senate and the House of Representatives will now need to approve the bill before Biden can make it law. Next, Democrats must pass the bill -- with just a few votes to lose at the House and none at the Senate -- before it can be signed into law by Biden.
But Biden and other Democrats continue to push hard for this goal, which they consider a cornerstone in the president's accomplishments. Biden's party passed an earlier in the year a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that focused on short-term economic relief. The set of infrastructure bills, part of Biden's "Build Back Better", agenda, would have a longer-term effect and help to define Biden’s legacy. Democrats hope that these bills will show Americans that they are trying to help them, as well as other things, in the run-up to 2022's midterm elections.
A consistent theme of Biden's presidency is his argument that Democrats have to show that democracy -- and the federal government -- can work for everyday Americans. After a year of Covid-19 in which the federal response was anything but competent, and following decades more in which the role of government in everyday life has been shrunk and hidden (what experts call the "submerged state"), many have lost faith that the government can work for them. Biden believes that this can be changed by taking immediate action to improve people's lives.
As Biden said in his speech to Congress in April, "We have to prove democracy still works. Our government is still functional and we can deliver for the people.
This starts with the bipartisan agreement. The bipartisan agreement is not as significant as the other bill that it allows, but it doesn't mean it won't have an impact.
The bipartisan bill is a great deal on its own.
The bipartisan agreement, which is worth $550 billion in federal new spending, focuses almost exclusively on infrastructure projects. It will help rebuild American society and address longer-term issues like climate change and improving internet access.
These are the areas where major new funding would be made:
- Transport projectsNew funds of $110 billion would be allocated to road, bridges and other related projects by the bill. It would also allocate $39 billion to public transit, which the Biden administration called "the largest federal investment made in public transit in American history", along with $66 billion for rail. It would spend $42 billion on airports, ports and other related projects. It would also invest $11 billion to make America's roads safer.
- Reconnected communitiesMany American cities have seen rapid growth in road construction over the last few decades.Large highways have physically separated themThis is disproportionately impacting minority communities. This bill would allocate $1 billion to connect many of these locations.
- High-speed internetThe bill would allocate $65 billion to broadband internet. It also aims to increase competition among providers and lower the cost of high speed internet to make it more affordable.
- Electric vehiclesThis bill would invest $7.5 billion in a national network for electric vehicle chargers. The bill would also allocate $7.5 billion to electrify buses and ferries. The Biden administration stated that these actions are intended to create jobs and help combat global warming by decarbonizing key components of American transportation systems.
- You can also take other actions to combat climate changeOther investments to combat climate change would be made through the bill, including $28 million on power grid infrastructure, reliability, and resilience.Help expand access to clean energy) and $46 trillion to partially mitigate floods, wildfires and droughts.
- Clean drinking water:The $55 billion deal would be spent on clean water infrastructure to eliminate lead pipes and other hazardous chemicals from today's service lines.
- Clean up the environmentThe bill also includes $21 billion for environmental remediation, including cleanup of superfund and brownfield sites and abandoned mines.
Negotiators claim that the plan is funded by repurposed funds from the economic relief package and anti-fraud enforcement of unemployment benefits. They also mention a delay in a Medicare Part D reimbursement rule.
In some ways, the deal is a departure from what Biden had proposed earlier in the year, and even from the preliminary bipartisan agreement before detailed negotiations. One example is the $10 billion reduction in public transit funds. Biden admitted that neither side got everything they wanted. That's the beauty of compromise and forging consensus.
Although there are enough Republicans to support the deal to end the filibuster in the Senate, at least 10 of them appear to be supportive. Others continue to oppose the deal. The bill, according to former President Donald Trump, would give Democrats a political win that would make it easier for them win future elections. Republican lawmakers have raised separate concerns that the bill would spend too much, fueling levels of inflation they claim -- though many economists disagree -- that are too high and dangerous.
The deal appears to have cleared enough hurdles from both the right and the left to pass the Senate and possibly the House in the coming week.
This deal opens the door to a larger reconciliation bill
With the bipartisan deal locked in, Democrats can now move on to a bigger bill that they intend to pass through the budget reconciliation process, a limited maneuver that lets the Senate pass a bill with a simple majority. This was part of political calculations: Sens. and other moderate Democrats were involved in this maneuver. Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Kyrsten Sinema, (D-AZ), wanted the public to see that they worked across party lines before passing another large bill on a partisan basis.
Details of this bill are still unknown. That includes the cost: Though it was originally set to total $3.5 trillion, Sinema, a moderate thorn in progressives' side, this week indicated that price tag is too high for her.
We know that the bill will be less focused on infrastructure than it is on "human infrastructure," which means that projects that invest in people are more important than those that focus on infrastructure. The bill could include an expanded child tax credit and paid family and medical leaves, as well as a free community college and a summer food program to help low-income families with children. It also may provide subsidies for individual insurance. A variety of climate-related measures would likely be included in the bill, including tax incentives and civil climate corps.
Democrats suggested that they would pay the greater bill by increasing taxes on the rich and increasing enforcement against those who cheat or underpay their taxes.
This would amount to a huge bill. Just one of these programs -- whether an expanded child tax credit that's effectively an Americanized child allowance, paid leave, or universal preschool -- would on its own be considered a huge achievement. That Democrats may do several of these things at once is genuinely, in Biden's famous words, a big fucking deal.
However, we are unsure if all of these items will be included in the final bill. We don't even know if the reconciliation bill will pass. They can't afford to have defectors, considering that Democrats hold the House with just a few votes and Senate with a 50-50 split and tiebreaker from Vice-President Kamala Harris. Despite the fact that the details have been worked out, there is still contention between moderates and progressives over the overall cost and priority of the bill's final language.
It could all still go wrong.
However, it was the same for the bipartisan agreement, which had its ups and downs, as Democrats and Republicans tried to reach agreements on different issues. It worked against Washington's expectations. Perhaps the reconciliation bill will be the same.
It's worth paying attention to. This bipartisan agreement alone will have a significant impact on the lives of many people. Even more important is the reconciliation bill. Decades after former President Bill Clinton declared the "era of big government is over," Biden is on the verge of showing the government can still help people in a big way.