White House, Congress Take Two-Lane Road to Funding Infrastructure

There are trillions of dollars involved and access to safe, clean transportation for millions of people. The stakes could hardly be higher with thousands of crumbling bridges across the USA, many roads showing signs of wear, and funding put off from year to year.

A child looks out over the deadly collapse of the I-35 Mississippi River bridge, an eight-lane, steel truss arch bridge that carried Interstate 35W across the Mississippi River at Minneapolis, Minnesota. August 2007. (Photo by beavela)

 

There are trillions of dollars involved and access to safe, clean transportation for millions of people. The stakes could hardly be higher with thousands of crumbling bridges, many roads showing signs of wear, and funding put off from year to year.

Fixing these foundations of mobility has been kicked down the road for years, even as the American Society of Civil Engineers issued grades of D and D- in assessment after assessment. Their 2021 grades range from a B in rail to a D- in transit. Just one category, bridges, went down.

A 2019 analysis from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association showed there were 178 million daily crossings on over 47,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges.

But despite promises lawmakers have been stuck on appropriations, and it seems that whoever was in office, there was never enough funding for infrastructure.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has been firm in his determination to move legislation along bipartisan lines despite the polarization of the Senate, and Thursday he made a deal with five Republican senators on a smaller infrastructure package than he and Democratic lawmakers had proposed.

But Biden will not give up on his broader vision to fund "human infrastructure" as well as roads, bridges and electric vehicle charging stations. He wants to do both.

"There is going to be a two-track system," President Biden said at the White House and took a positive attitude toward the compromise that will form one track of the unusual two-track legislative process.

There are trillions of dollars involved and access to safe, clean transportation for millions of people. The stakes could hardly be higher with thousands of crumbling bridges across the USA, many roads showing signs of wear, and funding put off from year to year.

A child looks out over the deadly collapse of the I-35 Mississippi River bridge, an eight-lane, steel truss arch bridge that carried Interstate 35W across the Mississippi River at Minneapolis, Minnesota. August 2007. (Photo by beavela)

 

There are trillions of dollars involved and access to safe, clean transportation for millions of people. The stakes could hardly be higher with thousands of crumbling bridges, many roads showing signs of wear, and funding put off from year to year.

Fixing these foundations of mobility has been kicked down the road for years, even as the American Society of Civil Engineers issued grades of D and D- in assessment after assessment. Their 2021 grades range from a B in rail to a D- in transit. Just one category, bridges, went down.

A 2019 analysis from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association showed there were 178 million daily crossings on over 47,000 structurally deficient U.S. bridges.

But despite promises lawmakers have been stuck on appropriations, and it seems that whoever was in office, there was never enough funding for infrastructure.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has been firm in his determination to move legislation along bipartisan lines despite the polarization of the Senate, and Thursday he made a deal with five Republican senators on a smaller infrastructure package than he and Democratic lawmakers had proposed.

But Biden will not give up on his broader vision to fund "human infrastructure" as well as roads, bridges and electric vehicle charging stations. He wants to do both.

"There is going to be a two-track system," President Biden said at the White House and took a positive attitude toward the compromise that will form one track of the unusual two-track legislative process.

“The deal reached on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure framework is a critical step in implementing president Biden's build back better vision."

The White House

The plan makes "transformational and historic investments" in clean transportation infrastructure, clean water infrastructure, universal broadband infrastructure, clean power infrastructure, remediation of legacy pollution, and resilience to the changing climate.

But President Biden says he will only sign the smaller Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework bill if it is accompanied "in tandem" by another piece of legislation that could propose spending up to $6 trillion on different infrastructure needs of the American people, what Biden calls "human infrastructure.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders confirmed to reporters Thursday that Senate Democrats are discussing a $6 trillion budget reconciliation proposal that would also expand Medicare, lower the cost of prescription drugs, address the “housing crisis” that has half a million people sleeping in the streets, provide for robust childcare and immigration reform.

These are things that Senate Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats, believe America needs, that Senate Republicans view as too costly and not really infrastructure at all, not in the same way that roads and bridges are.

So, with the narrowest of margins in the 100-member Senate - 50-50 with tie votes decided by Vice President Kamala Harris - pushing infrastructure legislation along that second track will mean passing it through what's called a budget reconciliation process that requires only 51 votes to win approval.

All this maneuvering is to get around the filibuster - a Senate rule that requires 60 votes, not 51, to pass a measure. And so, long overdue fixes for U.S. roads and bridges hang on the politics of infrastructure, 2021.

 

What's In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework? Plenty! 

 

The Framework provides for the largest federal investment in public transit in history and is the largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak," President Biden told reporters Thursday.

And the Framework provides for the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system.

The bipartisan agreement, crafted by Senators Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and eight others in the Senate, would spend $973 billion over five years, or $1.2 trillion over eight years. Of that, $579 billion is new spending not already allocated through other projects, according to the White House.

The 10 senators released a statement Thursday saying, "Today, we’re proud to advance this bipartisan proposal to make a historic investment in America’s critical infrastructure needs, advance cleaner technologies, create jobs, and strengthen American competitiveness, without raising taxes.”

“This agreement shows that the two parties can still come together, find common ground, and get things done that matter to everyday Americans. We are happy to have President Biden’s support, and will now get to work enlisting the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle," the senators said.

President Biden illustrated how compromise worked in these negotiations. "Talk about public transit: $49 billion for public transit," he told reporters. "When I raised that before, some of you looked at me like, 'Where have you been, Biden?'"

"You know, electric buses — $7.5 billion. I asked for $15 [billion]. I couldn’t get all of it, but we compromised." The Framework as written would cover electrifying thousands of school and transit buses across the country to reduce harmful emissions and drive domestic manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles and components.

"Electric infrastructure — that is charging stations along the roads. I asked for 15 [billion]; I got seven and a half," Biden said. "These are significant down payments on things that we finally got after skillful negotiation on the part of my Cabinet and my team."

If Congress passes the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, American workers will be installing electric vehicle charging stations in a national network along highways and in rural and disadvantaged communities.

The largest investment in EV infrastructure in history, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will accomplish the President’s goal of building and deploying 500,000 EV chargers.

Funding will cover modernizing and expanding transit and rail networks across the country, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Funding of $109 billion will repair and rebuild roads and bridges "with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians," the White House said.

"We’re going to do it all without raising a cent from earners below $400,000," said President Biden. "There’s no gas tax increase, no fee on electric vehicles."

But the President said, he is getting to work with Congress right away on the other half of his economic agenda, the American Family Plan, to finish the job on childcare, education, the caring economy, clean energy, and tax cuts for American families.

The plan makes "transformational and historic investments" in clean transportation infrastructure, clean water infrastructure, universal broadband infrastructure, clean power infrastructure, remediation of legacy pollution, and resilience to the changing climate.

But President Biden says he will only sign the smaller Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework bill if it is accompanied "in tandem" by another piece of legislation that could propose spending up to $6 trillion on different infrastructure needs of the American people, what Biden calls "human infrastructure.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders confirmed to reporters Thursday that Senate Democrats are discussing a $6 trillion budget reconciliation proposal that would also expand Medicare, lower the cost of prescription drugs, address the “housing crisis” that has half a million people sleeping in the streets, provide for robust childcare and immigration reform.

These are things that Senate Democrats, particularly progressive Democrats, believe America needs, that Senate Republicans view as too costly and not really infrastructure at all, not in the same way that roads and bridges are.

So, with the narrowest of margins in the 100-member Senate - 50-50 with tie votes decided by Vice President Kamala Harris - pushing infrastructure legislation along that second track will mean passing it through what's called a budget reconciliation process that requires only 51 votes to win approval.

All this maneuvering is to get around the filibuster - a Senate rule that requires 60 votes, not 51, to pass a measure. And so, long overdue fixes for U.S. roads and bridges hang on the politics of infrastructure, 2021.

 

What's In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework? Plenty! 

 

The Framework provides for the largest federal investment in public transit in history and is the largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak," President Biden told reporters Thursday.

And the Framework provides for the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system.

The bipartisan agreement, crafted by Senators Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and eight others in the Senate, would spend $973 billion over five years, or $1.2 trillion over eight years. Of that, $579 billion is new spending not already allocated through other projects, according to the White House.

The 10 senators released a statement Thursday saying, "Today, we’re proud to advance this bipartisan proposal to make a historic investment in America’s critical infrastructure needs, advance cleaner technologies, create jobs, and strengthen American competitiveness, without raising taxes.”

“This agreement shows that the two parties can still come together, find common ground, and get things done that matter to everyday Americans. We are happy to have President Biden’s support, and will now get to work enlisting the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle," the senators said.

President Biden illustrated how compromise worked in these negotiations. "Talk about public transit: $49 billion for public transit," he told reporters. "When I raised that before, some of you looked at me like, 'Where have you been, Biden?'"

"You know, electric buses — $7.5 billion. I asked for $15 [billion]. I couldn’t get all of it, but we compromised." The Framework as written would cover electrifying thousands of school and transit buses across the country to reduce harmful emissions and drive domestic manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles and components.

"Electric infrastructure — that is charging stations along the roads. I asked for 15 [billion]; I got seven and a half," Biden said. "These are significant down payments on things that we finally got after skillful negotiation on the part of my Cabinet and my team."

If Congress passes the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, American workers will be installing electric vehicle charging stations in a national network along highways and in rural and disadvantaged communities.

The largest investment in EV infrastructure in history, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will accomplish the President’s goal of building and deploying 500,000 EV chargers.

Funding will cover modernizing and expanding transit and rail networks across the country, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Funding of $109 billion will repair and rebuild roads and bridges "with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians," the White House said.

"We’re going to do it all without raising a cent from earners below $400,000," said President Biden. "There’s no gas tax increase, no fee on electric vehicles."

But the President said, he is getting to work with Congress right away on the other half of his economic agenda, the American Family Plan, to finish the job on childcare, education, the caring economy, clean energy, and tax cuts for American families.