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House passes the 'bridges, lead pipes, EV charging, and internet' half of Joe Biden's infrastructure agenda!
The House of Representatives last night passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, or "BIF," which is so much fun to say that we refuse to call it by its boring official name, the "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act." In fact we fell asleep just typing the official name and now it's an hour later and we're cleaning drool off our keyboard.Fact Check: We actually spent that hour looking at retro-futurist images of transportation stuff for a header image, like this highly improbable giant train running on a single rail, about which we can tell you nothing more. Gyroscopes were gonna keep it upright, we guess.
The point is, the House passed the BIF, and it's the biggest infrastructure investment the government has passed in well over a decade, at around a trillion bucks — although only about $550 billion of the funding is for actually new spending, while the rest continues funding infrastructure programs that already exist. Since the Senate already passed the bill back in the dim mists of recorded time (August), the bill now goes to Biden to sign in the next few days.
We bet you are thinking to yourself exactly what we thought to ourselves when we saw the news: What happened to the House Progressive Caucus's vow to only pass BIF after the larger, more ambitious Build Back Better plan passed? (If you're not clear on the difference between the two bills, see our handy guide here .)
Simple! Politics happened! Basically, the negotiations on Build Back Better are close enough to a final deal that President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi are certain it will pass both houses. About a half-dozen centrist/conservative House Dems said they couldn't vote for Build Back Better — the "human infrastructure" half of Biden's economic agenda, with eldercare and childcare and pre-K and the rest — until the Congressional Budget Office "scores" the bill and says it really will pay for itself. Also too, Terry McAuliffe lost the Virginia governor's race Tuesday, so a big legislative win, plus yesterday's very good jobs report, might combine to improve Biden's polling.
As we noted yesterday, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has already estimated that the tax provisions in the bill will raise about $1.5 trillion over 10 years, which would cover most of the $1.75 to $1.85 trillion of the bill's projected spending. Democratic leaders say other parts of the bill, like funding the IRS to go after tax cheaters, would raise at least another $400 billion, making up the gap. But until the CBO says that's a valid estimate — the report is likely to be ready around the middle of this month — those conservative Dems want to hold off on voting.
Pelosi had hoped that both the BIF and Build Back Better could be passed together yesterday, but since the votes weren't there, she and Biden convinced all but a few of the progressives in the caucus to vote for BIF in exchange for an Absolute Pinkie Pie Promise from the moderates that once the CBO says the numbers work out, they'll pass Build Back Better, cross their hearts and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in their eye, no later than the week of November 15, as the New York Times 'splainers:
In a statement late Friday night, the centrists declared: "We commit to voting for the Build Back Better Act, in its current form other than technical changes," as soon as they obtain an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office consistent with White House figures showing that the measure is fully paid for.
In addition to that commitment, the House also passed a procedural rule that formally opens debate on the Build Back Better bill, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), chair of the Progressive Caucus, issued a statement saying the agreement satisfied her caucus's requirements. As the Times reports, Jayapal said, "We were already in high gear to get it done, but if there's a higher gear, we certainly went into it."
Ultimately, to get enough votes to pass BIF, 13 Republicans joined all but six Democrats to pass BIF, 228 to 206.
The New York Times has a good rundown of all the last-minute negotiating, which included a lot of meetings between Pelosi and various House members, and an "hourslong meeting" of the Progressive Caucus, with Biden on speakerphone; he cancelled his usual weekend trip home to Delaware to get the agreement put together.
The $550 billion in new spending includes an assload of new construction, maintenance, and repairs for America's roads, bridges, ports, and airports, especially the ones reporters are required to say are "crumbling," which unfortunately is not merely a cliché.
Other spending will help move forward the transition to clean electrification, away from fossil fuels, like $7.5 billion to build a network of recharging stations for electric vehicles, to make buying EVs more attractive to people worried about the vehicles' range. Another $7.5 billion will go to zero-emission buses and ferries, including thousands of electric school buses. That's on top of $39 billion to modernize public transit systems, and another $66 billion for freight and passenger rail upgrades that have been put off forever. It's a bit less than the $80 billion that Biden wanted for rail, but it should finally eliminate Amtrak's maintenance backlog. It's a big heckin' deal.
$65 billion will go into rebuilding the country's electric grid, which is absolutely needed to meet the needs of the transition to wind and solar. (Check out David Roberts' wonderfully geeky series discussing of how the grid needs revamping to handle renewable power and the coming boom in home solar power and battery systems.)
Also too, the BIF will fund $55 billion to fix drinking water systems, with the goal of replacing all the old lead pipes so there won't be any more Flints, thank Crom. Another $50 billion will go to make water infrastructure more resilient against severe weather caused by climate change, and protecting against cyberattacks.
As Biden campaigned on, the bill will also have a big environmental justice component, with $21 billion in new spending to clean up Superfund and "brownfield" toxic waste sites, as well as reclaiming abandoned mine and well sites. Tons of polluted sites are located in low income and minority communities, because goddamn it, there sure as hell is systemic racism in this country. In addition, there's a billion dollars to "reconnect" communities that were cut up in the post-war years by freeways and other projects that happened to get sited through minority neighborhoods, and by god teachers should teach that even in Texas.
The BIF also includes, at long last, $65 billion to build out high-speed broadband in rural and urban areas that have gone too long without it; again, down from the $100 billion Biden proposed, but let's hope it means no more kids ever have to do homework on a school laptop outside a Taco Bell.
It's all needed, and so much more is left to do, which is why we need Build Back Better as well. Stay on the bastards, beloveds.
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