Where Does Biden's Infrastructure Bill Stand?

The Memorial Day deadline for sweeping legislation to repair our crumbing infrastructure has passed. Democrats and Republicans are still working to reach an agreement. But big differences remain, and time is short.

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Infrastructure. Never have we been so happy to have a buzz word trending in the news. Much of the news however has dealt with Congressional squabbling over what infrastructure legislation should look like and how to pay for it.

For Democrats, infrastructure funding means finding ways to combat climate change and build resilient structures using green initiatives. The second part of the proposal is set to address economic inequities, provide paid leave to workers and support child care. The administration’s accompanying Made in America Tax Plan proposes to increase the corporate rate from 21 percent to 28 percent to pay for it all. 

Republicans know that this type of pay-for is dangerous for the economy and are skeptical of the laundry list of items touted as "infrastructure" in the Biden plan.

The White House continues to see upside to infrastructure negotiations with Republicans, even as the talks ran past the Memorial Day deadline President Joe Biden initially planned. The president still has faith in his ability to win over reluctant Senate Republicans and many see the benefit to working on this proposal in a bipartisan way.

Still, the divide between Republicans and Democrats seems to be widening on the issue. Here is the latest news from Washington: 

A Look Ahead: June 28th

The House of Representatives will vote the week of June 28 on H.R. 3684, the INVEST in America Act, a five-year (FY 2022-2026), $547 billion surface transportation authorization bill approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on June 8. This legislation would:      

            • Allocate $343 billion for roads, bridges, and safety;     
            • Emphasize “fix-it-first” and add resiliency to the National Highway Performance Program, and require cost-benefit analysis for any capacity-enhancement projects;
            • Reauthorize the Accelerated Implementation and Deployment Pavement Technologies Program (AID-PT) at $12 million annually and add a new focus area: deploying pavement technologies that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions;   
            • Allow states to use contractual provisions that provide safety contingency funds to incorporate safety enhancements to work zones prior to or during roadway construction and maintenance activities; and
            • Expand Buy America requirements to include “construction materials.”

            June 16th

            The White House and congressional Democrats are preparing to go it alone on a massive infrastructure package, saying they'll know by next week whether Republicans will join them or whether they'll fly solo on a bill modernizing the nation's transportation systems and addressing the threat of climate change.

            Republicans from the start made it clear that they felt left out of the process and were disinclined to offer support on the INVEST in America Act. 

            “The reality is you all have your mind made up, and you’re probably going to push this partisan bill through and push it out of the committee and vote it off the floor and send it off to the Senate, where hopefully something better will happen,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-AR.

            Democrats are set to pursue a "two-track" strategy to enact Biden's American Jobs Plan that would pour tax dollars not only into highways, bridges and airports but also broadband, electric vehicle charging stations and new housing while also accelerating the nation's conversion from fossil fuels to clean energy.

            Democrats said they would negotiate with Republicans on a bill that focuses on traditional transportation. If a deal can't be reached, Democrats now say the will fold those programs into a larger climate bill using "budget reconciliation," a parliamentary strategy that bypasses the filibuster process and allows a simple majority to pass legislation.

            Where the bipartisan infrastructure package stands: The scaled-down agreement backed by a bipartisan group of 10 senators appears on life support days after it was announced, with progressives pressuring the White House to move on from bipartisan talks according to The Hill

            June 9th

            The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced, 38-26, a five-year, $547 billion surface transportation bill largely along party lines last week. The  Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America (INVEST in America) Act has been labeled “transformational” and, according to the committee’s press release on the proposed legislation, “offers a new approach to federal transportation policy," even though just two Republicans supported the bill. 

            Members had submitted a whopping 229 amendments to the sweeping legislation, which was threaded with provisions aimed at fighting climate change and supporting racial equity in the transportation system. Democrats hope the legislation will become a cornerstone of President Joe Biden's $2 trillion-plus infrastructure package. The foundational legislation would also fund and set the rules for the core federal programs that shape the transportation landscape after the expiration of the current surface transportation bill, the FAST Act, this September. 

            The INVEST in America Act, offers strategic investment — $548 billion over the next five years — directed to help:

            • rebuild our aging roads, rail lines, bridges and ports
            • expand access to sustainable passenger rail and public transit services
            • accelerate the shift to electric vehicles
            • reconnect disadvantaged neighborhoods fragmented by misguided highway construction in the past
            • reduce fossil fuel consumption in the transportation sector that accounts for nearly 35 percent of the nation’s carbon footprint.

            The INVEST Act is expected to be on the House floor in July. Meanwhile, the Senate’s bipartisan five-year, $303.5 billion surface transportation bill (Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021), which was unanimously approved by the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee last month, awaits further consideration. Talks continue between a bipartisan group of senators and the White House on a broader infrastructure package while congressional committees work on completing the surface transportation reauthorization process in anticipation of the FAST Act’s expiration on September 30.

            June:

            Here we are in June, past Biden's deadline to have some significant legislation crafted on an infrastructure bill. Biden and officials insist they are not going to let these negotiations go on for very long before they will forge ahead on a plan of their own. The president’s advisers anticipate drawing harder lines in public over what should be in the plan and how to pay for it. 

            Biden will sit down with Captio this week as a potential "last opportunity" to find a way to come together on a plan to rebuild the nation’s ailing infrastructure. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said over the weekend that the Biden administration needs to have ‘clear direction’ on infrastructure by June 7.

            May 27th: 

            In an attempt to salvage stalled negotiations, Senate Republicans unveiled a revised counteroffer for infrastructure spending, outlining roughly $928 billion in a package that’s still far short of what the White House has proposed. Only about a quarter of the total price tag appears to represent new spending above existing or expected levels under the “road map” put forward by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (WV) and her GOP counterparts. But the lawmakers still stressed that their retooled approach “delivers on much” of what President Biden had recommended in earlier talks between the two sides.

            The White House took a less rosy view, describing the GOP effort as “constructive” even as press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that it still lacks enough funding for some of the president’s top priorities. But the new Republican counter-offer at least appeared sufficient enough to keep talks going into next week.

            May 26th:

            EPW Committee advances surface transportation bill with unanimous support. The STRA  2021 marks an increase of more than 34 percent from the last reauthorization to pass Congress, the FAST Act, in 2015. The prior authorization for surface transportation programs expired in 2020; Congress passed a one-year extension that will expire on September 30, 2021.

            May 25th:

              Biden Administration introduced a counter proposal which reduces spending by $600 billion compared to the original amount proposed in the American Jobs Plan. Shifts and/or reductions of funding hit some key areas:

                    • Roads, bridges and major infrastructure project funding cut to $120 billion compared to the original $159 billion in spending
                    • Move manufacturing, research and development, small business and supply chain improvements from this package over to a separate legislation that is being debated in Congress
                    • Reduce funding for broadband to $65 billion, which is the Republicans' originally proposed amount

                    May 23rd:

                    The Senate Environment & Public Works (EPW) Committee introduced the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021 (STRA), which sets a new baseline funding level at a historic high of $303.5 billion for Department of Transportation programs for highways, roads and bridges.

                    The legislation would grow Federal highway investment by $11.2 billion to $58.3 billion in FY 2022 (23.8 percent increase) for core highways and would distribute 90 percent of these funds by formula to states over its five-year life.

                    May 19th:

                    House Republicans unveil STARTER Act 2.0, a third proposal for infrastructure funding, which lays out a five-year, $400 billion proposal for highways, bridges and transit. Despite its size, the proposal is the smallest of the three major infrastructure proposals floating in Congress.

                    May 11th:

                    I-40 Hernando DeSoto Bridge, which carries I-40 across the Mississippi River between Tennessee and Arkansas, was suddenly closed as engineers discovered a fractured support beam during a routine inspection. Over-the-road truckers are having to take alternate routes, taking an eight-minute drive to an average of 84 minutes at a daily cost to the trucking industry of $2.4 million per day, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. The bridge’s closure comes as the White House is negotiating with a group of Senate Republicans on an infrastructure package and while the cost of the bridge being shut down is high, the cost of failure would have been much worse. A problem facing much of America right now. 

                    April 22nd: 

                    U.S. Senate Republicans proposed their own infrastructure package that is about a quarter the size of Democratic President Joe Biden's sweeping $2.3 trillion proposal and focuses narrowly on broadband access and traditional infrastructure projects. Republicans proposed spending $299 billion on roads and bridges while Biden's plan only dedicated $115 billion. The GOP plan includes ongoing “baseline” spending of $260.5 billion for highways. The Biden plan is in addition to “baseline” spending levels. Thus the increased in funding for roads is bridges is $115 billion over 8 years under the Biden plan and $39 billion over 5 years under the GOP plan. 

                    April: 

                    Biden urged Congress to get to work on crafting a program, regardless of their opinions on the plan. Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss his $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal and how to fund it. In the meeting, Biden vowed that the size and scope of his American Jobs Plan — as well as how to pay for it — is up for negotiation but urged them to make significant progress on an infrastructure bill by Memorial Day. 

                    March: 

                    Biden introduces the American Jobs Plan, a more than $2 trillion infrastructure package that was set to be unveiled in four part: transportation infrastructure, modern infrastructure like broadband, investing in the care economy to aid health workers and funding innovation and research and development infrastructure. Spending was introduced to be spread out over eight years and Biden said he would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% to fund it according to CNBC. The plan would put $621 billion into transportation infrastructure such as bridges, roads, public transit, ports, airports and electric vehicle development

                    February: 

                    In February, President Joe Biden warned the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that China will “eat our lunch” if America doesn’t “step up” its infrastructure spending. Biden established the mutual understanding with these leaders that America needs to build new infrastructure across urban and rural areas and create millions of good-paying jobs in the process of supporting the country's economic recovery in the months and years ahead.

                    January:

                    Biden introduced his "Build Back Better" plan which he said would make "historic investments" in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, research and development, and clean energy. The plan called for $2 trillion in spending over four years, more than the $1.7 trillion the campaign previously proposed to spend over a decade. 

                    Today in American there are 10 million less jobs than there were just a year ago. There is political will on both sides of the aisle to get this done, to create jobs and invest in our country. The last six infrastructure bills have been bipartisan and Washington needs leadership on this issue to get this done. Americans also want to come together on something and infrastructure is that opportunity.

                    The goals of this plan should transcend party politics. Promises in Washington need to become projects throughout the country. 

                    Stay tuned to ForConstructionPros.com for more updates on infrastructure funding.

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