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Explainer: What’s in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill?

July 29, 2021, 10:00 PM UTC

It’s finally happening. 

After months of negotiating late into the night over Zoom calls, a bipartisan group of Senators announced Wednesday that they had reached a deal around the major issues on their $1.2 trillion “hard” infrastructure bill. Later that night, the Senate voted to begin work on the plan.

While the bill itself may not be ready for another week or so, this agreement marks a major achievement for President Joe Biden who made a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure package a cornerstone of his 2020 campaign and prioritized passing legislation within the first year of his term. 

Republicans agreed to the plan after meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office Wednesday morning.

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who led negotiations from the Democratic side, said she had spoken with Biden and that he is “committed” and “excited” about the agreement. Most of the text is already written, she added, and that she feels good about having the votes to get this through. 

To quote the president…

Why is Biden calling this a “big f’ing deal“?

The entire U.S. economy, all $20 trillion of it, relies heavily on our infrastructure in one way or another, through transportation, power grids, high-speed internet, ports, roads, and bridges. But much of this infrastructure hasn’t been updated in decades, and delays are causing threats to our health, security, and GDP. In The Road Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure, historian Henry Petroski writes that just traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy $120 billion each year.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which grades U.S. infrastructure each year, gave the country a C- in 2021. 

There’s a water main break every two minutes, said the ASCE report, leading to losses of 6 billion gallons of treated water each day. Some 43% of our public roadways are in poor or mediocre condition. About 42% of all bridges in the country are at least 50 years old, and 7.5% are considered structurally deficient. About one in five school-aged children lack the high-speed internet connection needed to access lessons last year. 

The U.S. ranks 13th in the world in infrastructure quality, falling behind China, India, France, Germany, Japan, and the UAE. European countries typically spend about 5% on their infrastructure, the U.S. spends 2.3%. 

What is actually in the infrastructure deal? 

The bill is being advertised as a $1.2 trillion massive overhaul of America’s crumbling infrastructure, but in reality it will only include $550 billion in new spending, the rest of the package uses previously approved spending.

The finalized text still hasn’t been revealed yet but here’s what you can expect, based on communications from the White House: 

  • $110 billion to fund new roads and bridges 
  • $73 billion to move from fossil fuels to clean energy and upgrade power infrastructure
  • $66 billion to address deferred maintenance on Amtrak trains, expand service, and modernize rail service 
  • $65 billion to build reliable high-speed internet across America through broadband infrastructure  
  • $55 billion to replace lead pipes and service lines and provide clean drinking water across the country
  • $50 billion for weather-proofing infrastructure and creating infrastructure that’s resilient to the impacts of climate change and cyber attacks
  • $39 billion of new investment to modernize and improve public transit and and improve accessibility for the elderly and people with disabilities
  • $25 billion for airports to address repair and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion, and reduce carbon emissions 
  • $21 billion in environmental remediation to address legacy pollution like superfund sites, abandoned mines, and uncapped oil and gas wells
  • $17 billion in port infrastructure
  • $15 billion for electric vehicles, busses, and trucks and creating the infrastructure needed to charge them
  • $11 billion towards a “Safe Streets for All” program which will work to reduce car crashes and fatalities and improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists 

That’s a lot of money…

Yep, and that’s why negotiations have been so tedious. Democrats and Republicans both want to improve infrastructure, but they don’t see eye-to-eye on how to pay for it all. Talk of raising taxes is a poison pill on the right, and a big hold-up was a Democratic proposal to offset costs by cracking down on tax cheats to increase IRS revenue. 

Instead legislators claim they will fund the bill by:

  • Redirecting $250 billion in COVID relief funds, including $50 billion intended for federal unemployment relief that was eschewed by some Republican governors 
  • Recouping $50 billion in fraudulent unemployment benefits paid out during the pandemic
  • Saving $50 billion by delaying a Medicare rebate rule passed under former President Donald Trump 
  • Gaining $30 billion from strengthening tax reporting requirements and enforcement for cryptocurrency
  • Benefiting from increased growth from the infrastructure investments

So is “infrastructure week” actually over?

For those that remember the previous era, Donald Trump tried to pass infrastructure legislation so many times over his term in office that “infrastructure week” became shorthand for the magical thinking surrounding a Sisyphian task, the punchline to a joke. 

Over the past few weeks Trump has attempted to publicly undermine confidence in negotiations. Privately, he’s attempted to persuade Republican lawmakers to stop bargaining. “Who are these RINO Republicans that are so dedicated to giving the Radical Left Democrats a big and beautiful win on Infrastructure? Republican voters will never forget their name, nor will the people of our Country!” Trump wrote on his personal website Monday.  

Still, it looks like his influence is fading amongst his former Republican allies. Senator Lindsay Graham has said he wants to get to a deal and that he’s told the former president as much. Senator Rob Portman has also asked Trump to support the deal. Senator Kevin Cramer commented that Trump’s statements were “short on specificity.” McConnell, who Trump criticized as an “old Crow” for his support of an infrastructure plan shrugged off the comments. “Actually, it’s quite an honor,” McConnell told a CNN reporter. “Old Crow is Henry Clay’s favorite bourbon.”

Why is this being called a “hard” infrastructure bill? Is something else coming? 

Good eye. There’s also a much bigger, $3.5 trillion spending package that Democrats are currently preparing to push through Congress without Republican support. This could be where the bipartisan infrastructure deal hits a snag, since some Democrats are saying they won’t vote for one without the other. 

This $3.5 trillion would provide funding for Biden’s social agenda: a historic expansion of Medicare, expanding the child tax credit, providing paid medical and family leave, changing the tax code, taking climate action, and possibly even making changes to immigration law. 

Moderate Democrats and Republicans aren’t happy with it. 

“I love this bill; the other I can’t stand,” said Senator Mitt Romney about the difference between the two packages. He cited concerns about inflation with the larger bill. 

Senator Sinema, who led negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure deal, also opposes the spending package. 

“While I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion—and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation,” Sinema said Wednesday. 

Sinema’s statement was rebuked by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter, who tied her vote on the “hard” bill to support for the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation. “Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin,” she wrote. 

Congressman Mondaire Jones agreed, writing that “without a reconciliation package that meets this moment, I’m a no on this bipartisan deal.” 

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would not take up the bipartisan deal without the Senate passing the $3.5 trillion deal. 

It remains to be seen if the longtime House Speaker will budge on her hardline stance. 

When is this going to happen?

Congress is going into August recess in less than two weeks, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said both bills need to pass before then. If they don’t, the effort will lose steam and legislators will likely hyper-focused on the upcoming midterm elections which could impact their votes and open them up to feeling pressure from political influencers like Trump.

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