Despite passing $1.2 trillion Biden infrastructure bill, tensions remain in Senate

Colin Stewart ’22

President Joe Biden and his Democratic colleagues took a crucial step forward in their “Build Back Better” initiative over the summer by passing a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. On August 10, H.R. 3684, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed in a 69-30 vote. Historically, bills crucial to a President’s agenda do not pass with bipartisan support, but this bill defied the norm with the likes of Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senators Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Mitt Romney joining the unanimous Democratic vote.

     With a table of contents alone exceeding 18 pages and the bill in total exceeding 2,000 pages, H.R. 3684 contains $550 billion in new spending targeted at modernizing many outdated facets as well as beefing up already existing areas of American infrastructure. Such areas include an additional $110 billion in building and repairing roads and bridges, $65 billion in expanding high-speed internet access, and $66 billion in reinvigorating a failing American railway system. President Biden also took a page out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal by investing hundreds of billions of dollars in public works projects to rejuvenate the post-lockdown economy.

     With a grade of C- by the Infrastructure Report Card and ranking as the seventh worst infrastructure in the nation, Pennsylvania will be one of the states most affected should this bill be approved by the President. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act targets many of the key problems that we as Pennsylvanians face, such as repairing the 7,540 miles of road and 3,353 bridges in poor condition that cost Pennsylvanians an average of $620 a year, modernizing the public transport vehicles that many students use to attend school every day (22% of which are past useful life), and funding our state’s public schools which are plagued by few resources and dilapidated facilities.

     The Republican Senators who opposed the bill did so on many grounds. The most common complaint was one of wasteful spending. With the exception of the COVID Relief bills passed in 2020, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is one of the largest bills to have ever passed in the Senate. Furthermore, Democrats promised during the bill’s infancy that it would pay for itself and not further contribute to the national debt. But on August 5, the Congressional Budget Office estimated a further $256 billion would be contributed to the national debt over the next ten years from this bill alone.

Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden celebrate the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, August 10, 2021 – The White House via Wikimedia Commons

     Other objections arose from the steps this bill takes towards establishing a national infrastructure based around renewable energy. During the Trump presidency, many Republicans in Congress pushed to reintroduce nuclear energy into the American electrical grid. With large funding going to an option that they consider less efficient and less cost effective, there was little reason for Republicans of this opinion to support a bill that provides tens of billions of dollars to renewable energy.

     Many Republican lawmakers also objected to the bill on the grounds that it, as one Senator called it, is a “smoke screen” for a budget plan much larger than the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said as much when she stated that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would not be voted on unless the administration-backed budget plan were to pass.

     The budget plan in question includes programs such as universal pre-K, two years of tuition-free community college, unprecedented investment in public housing and green/sustainable housing, green cards and a path to citizenship for the roughly twelve million illegal immigrants inside the United States, dental, hearing, and vision coverage in the Medicare program, and “environmental justice and climate resilience.” With an estimated price tag of anywhere from $3.5 trillion to over $5.5 trillion, this budget plan would likely become the highest single-year mandatory spending budget in history, all while not addressing any of the issues raised by Republican lawmakers or increasing bipartisan spending on programs like social security (a program that is currently expected to be insolvent by 2033).

To put it bluntly, Democratic lawmakers took a necessary bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and paired it with what is essentially a Christmas list full of negligent spending, unreasonable programs, and partisan asks.

     To put it bluntly, Democratic lawmakers took a necessary bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and paired it with what is essentially a Christmas list full of negligent spending, unreasonable programs, and partisan asks. It is increasingly important to improve the United States’ crumbling infrastructure in order to maintain our position as a beacon of hope and prosperity for the outside world, but that cannot be done without a bipartisan effort. Republicans should not oppose the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act based solely on the fact that it is a Democrat initiative, and Democrats should not try to put the Republicans between a rock and a hard place: passing nothing or passing bills antithetical to everything the Republican party stands for.