It sure looks like the United States Senate is about to do something it doesn’t do very often: pass a substantive piece of bipartisan legislation. More specifically, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expects a 2,702-page infrastructure bill to pass “in a matter of days” and eventually make its way to Joe Biden‘s desk.
The bill in question allocates $550 billion to infrastructure spending. It would be the “biggest infusion of federal spending on public works in decades,” according to Bloomberg News.
But it still is inadequate to tackle the serious economic and environmental problems facing the United States.
Here’s what families need to know about what is, and isn’t, in the bill and how Joe Biden plans to keep his campaign promises.
What does the bipartisan infrastructure bill do?
The allocations in the bill include:
- $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges
- $73 billion of power grid upgrades
- $66 billion for rail and Amtrak
- $65 billion for broadband expansion
- $55 billion for clean drinking water
- $39 billion for transit
There are also subsidies for a raft of energy priorities including nuclear power plants, carbon capture and storage, electric buses, charging stations, and battery recycling.
If passed, this bill would fund a lot of good things, setting aside that spending nearly three times as much on car infrastructure over mass transit during a climate emergency is misguided at best.
What doesn’t the bill do?
One major shortfall of this bill is its lack of a robust, sustainable plan to raise revenue for these priorities.
Republicans declared early in the process that would not entertain the idea of deficit spending on raising taxes, so this compromise relies on a taped-together plan including selling part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, reallocating unspent COVID-19 funds, extending some budget cuts, and delaying a Medicare prescription drug rebate rule.
Instead of creating long-term structures to upgrade and maintain safer, greener infrastructure this bill represents a one-time infusion of cash in lots of areas, some of them unimpeachable and some clearly misguided.
It also leaves out many of the Biden administration’s other infrastructure priorities that are less traditional and would arguably do a lot more for families than repairing roads (which is still important.)
How do Democrats plan to implement the rest of their infrastructure priorities?
Biden’s much-touted (and, by Republicans, much lambasted) “human infrastructure” package will invest in things like education and childcare. That package is separate from the one being worked on right now, and it’s missing from this bipartisan package for a simple reason: there aren’t ten Senate Republicans willing to vote for any of the priorities therein.
The Democrats’ strategy is to pass as much through the normal legislative process as possible.
That leaves the ambitious policies of the American Families Plan—universal pre-K and community college, reforms and funding for childcare facilities and workers, tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners among them—to budget reconciliation. It would also pave the way for tax increases on the wealthy and corporations to pay for everything.
As you may recall from the many times it’s been in the news recently, reconciliation is the special process that allows certain laws that affect the federal budget to pass with a simple majority of Senators voting in favor. Anything that has the support of 50 senators—the number of Democrats currently in the chamber—can pass via reconciliation as long as tiebreaker Vice President Kamala Harris also supports it.
What happens next?
Assuming the bipartisan package passes the Senate, Schumer promised to immediately shift his attention to the reconciliation package, which has to earn the votes of everyone from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin given the exactly zero votes the Democrats can afford to lose. Over in the House, Nancy Pelosi has promised not to take up the bipartisan package until the Senate passes the reconciliation measure.
That means that much of the upcoming squabbling over infrastructure will be within the Democratic Party. In the Senate, conservative Democrats have signaled that they want the $3.5 trillion price tag of the Biden proposal to come down. And in the House, where Democrats have just three votes to spare, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has similarly said that the votes of her and her allies for the bipartisan package depend on the reconciliation package reflecting their priorities.
Passage of both of these pieces of legislation thus depends largely on whether senior Democrats up to and including President Biden can come up with bills that both AOC and Joe Manchin can support. There’s a lot of uncertainty there, so how much Democrats will actually do for American parents and children remains to be seen.