On August 10, much to the delight of farm, business, and labor interests, as well as most of the general population, the Senate passed the long-awaited and painfully negotiated Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. American Trucking Associations president Chris Spear called it a “groundbreaking step toward revitalizing America’s decaying roads and bridges.” The so-called partisan action, a part of President Biden’s Build Back America program, was passed by a vote of 69-30. The legislation has been highly touted as a bipartisan act, although the praise has come mostly from the Senate itself. They are patting themselves on the back for setting aside their political interests for the good of the country. I thought that was what they were supposed to do, but as the saying goes, “It is what it is”. (Actually only 19 Republicans voted for the bill.)
Regardless of how we got there, this is a huge step, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent. The country has been concerned about the highway infrastructure for years, a network which has been described by experts as C-, or poor to mediocre, with 45,000 bridges and 173,000 miles of highway in need of repair or replacement. President Obama tried to get legislation passed without success, and President Trump promised a major infrastructure overhaul, but never delivered it.
However, we are not close to a president’s signature yet, since the Senate bill now must go back to the House of Representatives. (More on that later.)
The 2700-page Senate legislation calls for $550 billion in new spending, including $110 billion for just roads and bridges. The focus of these expenditures will be climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety. This will be the largest investment in bridges since construction of the interstate highway system. Eleven billion dollars will be dedicated to transportation safety programs.
Public transit will get a major investment to replace, according to the White House: 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations, signals, and thousands of miles of track. Another $39 billion will go into improvements in accessibility for the elderly and other modernization. All new vehicles will be clean and functional, with zero emissions.
$66 billion dollars will go into Amtrak, the largest investment since Amtrak was created.
The bill provides $7.5 billion for a national network of Electric Vehicle Chargers. Thousands of electric school buses will replace current fleets.
High speed internet will get $65 billion, and according to the White House, this will ensure “every American has access to reliable high-speed internet with an historic investment in broadband and infrastructure deployment.” The need for such an investment became painfully obvious as schools and medical facilities went on-line during the pandemic, revealing tens of millions without internet access.
$55 billion dollars will be allocated to clean drinking water and wastewater pipes and service lines. Twenty-five billion dollars will be invested in airports for repair and maintenance, and to reduce congestion. Port infrastructure will be improved with the $17 billion allocated to these important facilities.
Finally, $73 billion will be devoted to our aging electric grid, “the single largest investment in clean energy transmission in American history.”
This bill would be funded by repurposing other money, including funds allocated to Covid-19.
As indicated earlier, the Senate bill now goes to the House where we no doubt will see weeks or months of negotiation, amendment, and compromise. Waiting in the wings is the bigger, $3.5 trillion Democratic package that would provide funds for climate change, family support, health, education and other social and medical issues, including expanding Medicare to provide dental, hearing, and vision benefits. This is the second part of the president’s Build Back America program. It is clear that his long-term goal is to provide more aid and comfort to lower- and middle-income citizens.
This legislation would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and high – earning taxpayers.
Speaker Pelosi said that the House would not consider the Senate infrastructure package unless the Senate passed the $3.5 trillion legislation. This bill was not supported by a single Republican; but not surprisingly, it was passed on August 11, as a budget resolution by a vote of 50-49. Some industry experts have said, “This is, would be the greatest change to social welfare since the 1960’s Great Society.”
The next move will be up to the House. While Congressional negotiations and other shenanigans are sure to delay the process, a big hurdle has been cleared; and in spite of the crooked road head, we should see something final before the end of the year.