I asked my readers on Instagram if they’d appreciate an explainer on the infrastructure bills and they overwhelmingly said yes. So let’s do this!
You’ve no doubt heard a variety of different price tags and lists of what is and isn’t in the bills. But the most important thing to remember is that there are TWO BILLS — the bipartisan bill and the reconciliation bill.
The bipartisan bill
A group of 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans worked together with the Biden administration to write this bill. The bipartisan bill is being passed in the Senate through regular order — that means it must pass the initial 60 vote threshold to bypass a potential filibuster before moving on to a final vote. And yesterday, the Senate passed this bill 69-30. Mitch McConnell and 18 other Republicans voted for it. It now must pass the House with a simple majority.
What’s in this historic $1.2 trillion bill:
- Investments in roads, bridges, rail, airports, ports, public transit, and making roads safer
- Multiple cities, particularly in minority neighborhoods, have been disconnected by having a highway run through them; this bill will spend $1B to reconnect those communities
- Expanding broadband to reach all Americans & spur competition to make the internet more affordable
- Build a national network of electric car chargers
- Tackle climate change by building out the power grid to expand the reach of clean energy plus funding to mitigate damage from floods, fires, and droughts
- Clean water infrastructure, like getting rid of lead pipes
The reconciliation bill
The second infrastructure bill is being driven by Democrats and will bypass the need for 60 votes in the Senate by using a process called reconciliation. It’s exempt from the filibuster rule because these are essentially budget bills. There are many rules regarding how to use reconciliation but an important one is that it can only be used once per fiscal year.
Republicans tend to talk about infrastructure in a very narrow sense, while the Democrats have a more expansive view. Biden likes to call it “human infrastructure.” I looked for a way to explain this idea and loved this from an Atlantic article:
“Technological systems like highways or electric grids cannot function without an educational system to train those who build and maintain them, or a labor market to keep them staffed. … Speaking of infrastructure merely as the physical components obscures all the other necessary ones.”
Although this $3 – 3.5 trillion bill has not been finalized yet, here are some of the items that have been in discussion:
- Paid family and medical leave
- Universal pre-K and 2 years free community college
- Civilian Climate Corps, a jobs program to combat the climate crisis with conservation, carbon reduction and adaptation projects
- Reducing the Medicare eligibility age & expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing
- Upgrade and increase number of childcare facilities
- Funding for home care providers
As the pandemic has made clear, needing to take care of children or elderly parents or sick family members takes people — often women — out of the workforce. Investing in these “human infrastructure” projects creates jobs and helps put more people back to work, which boosts the economy.
What happens now?
The Senators passed the bipartisan bill and immediately got to work on the reconciliation bill. Expect zero Republicans to pass this second bill. Then, the House will need to pass the bills. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted that the Senate send over both bills before she sets up a vote — i.e. she wants to pass both of these bills at the same time.
The thought there is that the progressives are less happy with the bipartisan bill but they do like the reconciliation bill, and similarly, moderate Democrats are a bit uneasy with the reconciliation bill but like the bipartisan bill. (Remember, they are all looking at their re-election campaigns coming up in a year’s time — they need to be able to explain their votes to their voters.) By passing them both together, it gives any flavor of Democrat a great narrative to sell to their voters.
So, yesterday was a great start and we should continue to have a pretty exciting August when it comes to infrastructure!
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