An Infrastructure Deal, for Real This Time

An Infrastructure Deal, for Real This Time

Reuters/Evelyn Hockstein

It’s been 34 days since President Joe Biden emerged from the White House flanked by a group of senators and announced that they had a bipartisan deal on an infrastructure package.

On Wednesday, after more than a month of intense and uncertain talks, the negotiators fleshing out all the contentious details of the original framework said they that they had resolved their major differences and really, actually reached an agreement on legislation to improve the country’s roads, bridges, transit, waterways and broadband network. The first procedural vote on the bill will likely take place tonight. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s in the agreement: The deal calls for $550 billion in additional federal spending over five years, according to a White House fact sheet, down from $569 billion in the framework announced last month.

The bill includes:

* $110 billion in new funds for roads and bridges;

* $73 billion for clean energy and power grid improvements;

* $66 billion for passenger and freight rail;

* $65 billion for high-speed internet infrastructure;

* $55 billion for clean drinking water;

* About $50 billion for improving resiliency against climate change and cyber attacks;

* $42 billion for ports and airports;

* $39 billion for public transit, down from $49 billion in the original agreement; and

* $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle charging stations. The funding for those charging stations reportedly appears to be cut in half from the original deal, as the result of the elimination of a $20 billion “infrastructure bank” meant to spur private investment.

The White House touted the elements of the deal with a host of superlatives, saying it includes the largest-ever federal investment in public transit, the largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak, the largest investment in electric vehicle infrastructure and clean energy transmission and the largest investment in drinking and waste water infrastructure.

Biden said the agreement would result in “the most significant long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century” and touted the jobs he said would be created in repairing roads and bridges, replacing lead water pipes, upgrading the nation’s power grid and improving the resilience of critical infrastructure against extreme weather events. The White House said the new investments will add an average of about 2 million jobs a year over a decade.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things,” Biden said. “As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”

The financing: Portman said that the deal is paid for, and a summary of the package obtained by Politico says that the key pay-fors include $205 billion in unused Covid relief money, $53 billion in unused unemployment benefits, $50 billion from recouping fraudulently paid unemployment benefits, $49 billion saved by delaying a Medicare Part D rebate rule, $28 billion from applying tax information reporting requirements to cryptocurrency and $56 billion from projected additional economic growth, based on a 33% expected return on long-term infrastructure investments.

Big questions ahead for Biden’s agenda: It appears likely that 10 Senate Republicans will vote to proceed with debate on the bill, but even if the legislation does advance, it still faces a tough slog before it reaches Biden’s desk. Some Republicans may yet object to the funding sources in the deal, insisting that new spending be fully and credibly offset. And Biden’s overall agenda could still face some intraparty risks.

House members may put up some obstacles to the Senate infrastructure deal, for example. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces some pressure from fellow Democrats to ensure that their priorities are included in the final package. She wouldn’t commit Wednesday to leaving the bill as is once it gets to her chamber. “I can’t commit to passing something that I don’t know what it is yet,” Pelosi told reporters. “But I’m hoping for the best."

She and other Democrats will likely face intense pressure from the White House to avoid any tinkering that might derail the entire package.

Sinema says no to Democrats’ $3.5 trillion spending plan: Even as she celebrated the bipartisan infrastructure deal, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the lead Democratic negotiator, said she opposes the price tag on Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” spending package, the other major component of Biden’s economic plan, which would likely need the backing of all 50 Senate Democrats to pass.

"I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans. I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion," Sinema said in a statement.

Sinema’s statement could actually help line up Republican support for the bipartisan infrastructure deal, but it calls into question the size and scope of the reconciliation package Democrats are preparing — a package that Pelosi said has to pass before she’ll bring the bipartisan deal up for a House vote. Progressives pushed back against Sinema’s stance and threatened to exert their own leverage on the bipartisan package, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeting: "Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin."

The bottom line: Last month’s deal to make a deal is now a deal for real. But there’s still a long road ahead on both infrastructure bills.