House Prepares to Vote on Infrastructure Bill, Maybe

By Jeffrey Bonior
Sep 30 2021 |
Construction of the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York. Photo by New York State Thruway Authority

Speaker Nancy Pelosi scheduled a vote on the $1.2 trillion investment package for Thursday. Will Congress get the job done?

The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Thursday that is the centerpiece of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” domestic agenda.

But as of Wednesday night, divisions among Democratic moderates and progressives — not to mention Republicansthreatened to derail the legislation, despite the fact there’s bipartisan agreement that it is finally time to make a serious investment in America’s decaying roads, bridges, public transportation, electrical grid, water systems and expand the country’s broadband internet access.

We, at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, could not agree more.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was passed by the Senate in August by a bipartisan margin of 69-30. But the legislation has become a political football in the House where many Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are insisting the legislation be coupled with a second economic package of approximately $3.5 trillion.

The larger economic proposal, which has yet to be introduced in the Senate, would be financed through tax increases on wealthy Americans and corporations. This additional revenue would be used to expand Medicare, address environmental issues such as climate change, aid low-income families with young children and to offer free schooling to community college students.

The $3.5 trillion so-called social policy plan is not bipartisan legislation, and thus would fail to garner the 60 votes needed to pass major legislation in the Senate. The Democrats would then revert to a process known as budget reconciliation that would allow them to pass the bill with a simple majority vote.

With the Senate evenly divided with a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, Vice President Kamala Harris would cast the deciding vote if all Senators voted along party lines. But on the eve of the complex vote in the House, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have indicated they would not likely fall in lockstep with their Democratic colleagues and support the $3.5 trillion package if it comes to the Senate floor.

This partisan maneuvering has the potential to threaten the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package in the House because several progressive Members are threatening to vote against the bill if it is not coupled with the larger $3.5 trillion package.

We aren’t going to get into the drama on Capitol Hill. What we will do, however, is remind Members of Congress to keep their eye on the ball. An upgrade to our nation’s infrastructure is long overdue and is needed now.

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its latest Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, giving the United States a grade of C- for its mediocre conditions. While that is a slight improvement from its previous grade of D-plus four years ago, the report still singles out the lack of federal investments.

And this is where that big infrastructure package can truly do some good.

More than 45,000 bridges in the U.S. are rated in poor condition, many of which are unsafe for high occupancy travel. The $1.2 trillion bill dedicates $110,000 billion in new spending for roads and bridges.

Electrical power outages are becoming more commonplace across America, creating dangerous and deadly situations. The new legislation would provide $65 billion to rebuild the electrical grid and invest in renewable energy projects such as solar and wind power.

America’s water systems are in such disrepair because many municipal water sources are more than 100 years old and are deemed unsafe. The $1.2 billion bill would provide $55 billion to replace the tainted lead pipes in our cities so clean drinking water will be available to all Americans.

The infrastructure revenue will also allow communities to upgrade their water delivery systems. Experts agree that an average of 700 water main breaks occur each day nationwide.

The infrastructure package would also provide a major boost to public transportation. A total of $42 billion would be earmarked to improving airports, shipping ports and other waterways.

Railways, including both passenger and freight rail, would receive $66 billion and an additional $39 billion would be used to modernize other forms of public transit making these services accessible to more Americans. Amtrak would receive the most funding it has received since it was founded in 1971.

The bill also allocates $65 billion to expand broadband internet access, especially to those living in rural locations. It is estimated that 40 million Americans lack access to broadband, a problem that has been accentuated by the increase of online work and schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An additional $7.5 billion will be used for electric vehicle charging stations, a project that will need to see continued investment as the major automobile companies plan to be manufacturing all-electric cars and buses by 2035.

Another $21 billion of the funding will be used for environmental projects such as cleaning longtime hazardous pollution areas such as Superfund and brownfield sites.

Yes, the infrastructure bill has become a political football and with Thursday’s House vote upon us, we are in the two-minute drill.

Let’s hope for a big final score. The last thing America needs now is to punt.