By a Biometrica staffer
Widely considered to be one of the least polarizing issues in politics, infrastructure has become the key priority of the Biden-Harris Administration’s agenda. Currently, there are three bills being discussed in the U.S. Congress — two in the Senate and one in the House — that tackle this key issue. Though none of them is close to being passed, experts believe that any final infrastructure package will be an amalgamation of all three.
The first Senate bill, informally called the bipartisan infrastructure deal, was proposed around three weeks ago. The bill for it comes in at roughly $1.2 trillion over eight years. The second Senate proposal was announced late on Tuesday, July 13, when top leaders in the Senate Democratic caucus reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion, ten-year broad-based outline. This version includes many of President Joe Biden’s priorities that were left out of the first bill due to a lack of bipartisan support. The House version was approved, largely along party lines, early this month, and has a total spend of $715 billion over five years.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he plans to bring the bipartisan bill to the floor as early as next week, expecting to call for a motion to proceed by Wednesday, July 21. Members from both parties involved in its drafting are working to resolve differences, including how to pay for it, and nail down an acceptable version. Wednesday will also be the deadline for all 50 Democrats in the Senate to commit to moving forward with the second bill.
Due to the Senate’s filibuster rule, to pass, the former will require the support of all 50 Democrats in the Senate, plus at least another ten Republicans. Democrats and President Joe Biden are looking to move the second Senate bill forward through a process called “budget reconciliation,” which would only require 50 votes. In the House, the Democrats in effect have a four-vote margin on any bill that is rejected wholesale by all Republicans.
Both chambers, as well as President Biden are under pressure to gain some ground on the topic of infrastructure ahead of Congress’ August recess.
Let’s take a look at what each bill contains.
The Bipartisan Senate Bill
The total $1.2 trillion spending in this bill will be split pretty evenly between funding the continuation of existing federal schemes and investing in new infrastructure. Nearly $600 billion will be earmarked for just physical infrastructure, like roads, bridges, etc. The total $312 billion budgeted for transportation includes:
- Roads, bridges, major projects: $109 billion
- Safety: $11 billion
- Public transit: $49 billion
- Passenger and freight rail: $66 billion
- Electric vehicles: $7.5 billion
- Electric buses/transit: $7.5 billion
- Airports: $25 billion
- Ports and waterways: $16 billion
About $266 billion will be set aside for “other infrastructure,” including $55 billion on water and $65 billion for improving broadband access.
A detailed breakdown of the budget can be found here, as can information on how the Biden-Harris administration intends to pay for it.
The Senate Budget Reconciliation BIll
This package is being touted by Democrats as a landmark, comprehensive package directed at improving the lives of average Americans. Not much is known about the bill as of yet, since the details will be decided on once the resolution is passed, which might happen next week. The measures in the bill will largely be paid off, it is expected, by increasing taxes on the ultra wealthy and the largest corporations.
Its general contents are thought to include:
- Targeting spending on helping the elderly and the disabled through an expansion of Medicare that would cover dental, vision, and hearing.
- A temporary extension on subsidies for those buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, a provision that was included in an earlier pandemic-focused bill.
- A provision that would look at boosting access for all parents to pre-kindergarten facilities.
- Two free years of community college education for everyone.
- An extension of some pandemic-era tax credits, especially the one that provides $300 per child for poor and middle-income families.
- National paid family leave and subsidized child care in general
- Extensive policies to address climate change, which President Biden considers a key aim of his agenda.
- Measures disallowing tax increases for small businesses and individuals who earn less than $400,000 a year.
- Revisions of the tax codes governing international businesses, energy companies, and renewable energy sources.
- Modifications in the capital gains tax and the individual tax for wealthy Americans
The House Bill
The House bill represents a 50% increase over current spending levels, and focuses on transportation and drinking water. Its measures include:
- Just over $340 billion allocated to building and improving new and existing roads, bridges, etc.
- $6.2 billion focused on better preparing physical infrastructure to withstand increasingly common climate events, like hurricanes, tornados, and wildfires.
- A 140% increase in federal spending on transit, with a total amount of $109 billion.
- $168 billion for wastewater and drinking water policies, including a plan to wipe clean the water bills that Americans could not afford to pay during the pandemic.
- Tripling the kitty for Amtrak to $32 billion and making some progress on the development of a high-speed rail system.
- $4 billion for building charging stations for electric vehicles.
- $8.3 billion towards reducing carbon emissions.
The road ahead is far from clear. The House version will likely serve as a base for the eventual package decided upon in the Senate. In addition, the budget reconciliation process — overseen by the Senate Parliamentarian — is governed by strict rules on what does and does not qualify for inclusion in such a measure. In order for it to pass, all 50 Democrats would have to agree to it, as it is not expected that any Republicans will vote in favor of it. On the other hand, the bipartisan bill is also not done and dusted, with lawmakers still struggling to finalize its provisions.
If some version of all three bills emerges victorious, it would probably amount to a total of $4.1 trillion investment in infrastructure, in addition to the trillions of dollars already spent by President Biden on post-pandemic recovery and relief efforts.
The New York Times says the proposed legislation has the potential to be “transformative,” and would direct money to “poor and middle-class families in amounts not seen since the New Deal.”