Senate Republicans just handed Joe Biden a signature achievement that may have assured his re-election. The Senate voted 69-30 to approve an infrastructure bill that gives Biden a much-needed political boost as the border crisis continues unabated and serious COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
Now Biden and the Democrats can go to the voters in 2022 with a legislative achievement made possible because Republicans didn’t want to get left behind as hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending was decided without them.
One way or another, there was going to be an infrastructure bill. It would either take the form of a $2.5 trillion partisan Democratic wish list paid for by ending Trump’s tax cuts or a bipartisan plan that kept the tax cuts in place and eliminated — at least temporarily — much of the social justice agenda that was tied to the original bill.
Biden had solemnly promised that the bill would be paid for. But once Republicans and a few centrist Democrats successfully took the end of the corporate tax cuts off the table, there was no chance the books would ever balance. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report on the bill last Thursday that says it would raise the budget deficit by $284 billion.
The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives where Speaker Nancy Pelosi will wait until the Senate passes another bill — a $3.5 trillion monstrosity that would expand Medicare, offer free community college, massively increase social spending, and grant green cards to DREAMers.
That bill is not likely to pass as it’s currently written. But the few Democrats on the fence — Senators Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, Krysten Sinema — will be under enormous pressure to go along.
The infrastructure plan includes an additional $55 billion to address lingering issues in the U.S. water supply, such as an effort to replace every lead pipe in the nation. It allocates $65 billion to modernize the country’s power grid. And it devotes billions in additional sums to rehabilitating waterways, improving airports and expanding broadband Internet service, particularly after a pandemic that forced Americans to conduct much of their lives online.
Lawmakers also agreed to authorize a significant tranche of funding to improve the environment and respond to the oft-deadly consequences of a fast-warming planet. The aid includes $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electric-vehicle charging stations, a major priority for Biden, who has worked to advance the next generation of emissions-friendly vehicles. And it apportions $47 billion to respond to wildfires, droughts, coastal erosion, heat waves and other climate crises that previously have wrought significant economic havoc nationwide.
There is little doubt that some infrastructure spending is good and necessary. Roads and bridges built by the federal government need to be maintained. The $1 trillion price tag spread out over eight years is certainly up for debate. Trump envisioned a bill half that size while he was in office.
As for the bells and whistles in the bill dealing with electric cars and climate change, it’s the Democrats’ party, so they get to pick the refreshments. The reality for lawmakers is that voting for a bill that has many things they can support and a few poison pills is better for their constituents than not approving it at all.