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What is in the new Infrastructure Act – and why it is so important

Not many people are excited about the possibility of a federal law on infrastructure. But the news of a $ 1 trillion infrastructure deal between Democrats and Republicans with $ 550 billion in new spending is a big deal – one that could directly and indirectly affect the lives of Americans.

The bill contains many measures that will help current and future generations: a major expansion of high-speed Internet; Spending on roads, bridges and public transport; and funding for clean drinking water. It would include new measures to combat climate change, including funding for electric vehicles and upgrading the electricity grid.

Second, the fact that the Senate reached an agreement could eventually produce an even bigger and more ambitious bill that could also make profound changes in people's lives. When the bipartisan deal is finally passed, moderate Democrats will have the cover they wanted to vote for a bill that Congress can only pass with the support of the Democrats.

This second bill would largely focus on President Joe Biden's “human infrastructure” agenda: expanding child tax credits; Establishment of paid family and sick leave Funding of a universal preschool and a free community college; and other measures against climate change. Again, these are all things that would have a significant impact on people's lives – collectively, the largest expansion in welfare programs since former President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, which included Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s.

The path for Biden to sign these measures is not certain. With most of the details worked out, the bipartisan deal weathered an early Senate vote 67-32, with 17 Republicans joining. But now the Senate, along with the House of Representatives, must give full approval to the bill before Biden can take it into effect. Then the Democrats – with only a few votes to lose in the House of Representatives and none to lose in the Senate – must pass the other, larger bill before it lands on Biden's desk.

However, Biden and other Democrats are pushing hard, viewing this as a cornerstone of the President's accomplishments. Biden's party earlier this year passed a $ 1.9 trillion stimulus package that focuses on short-term economic relief. But the string of infrastructure laws – part of his “Build Back Better” agenda – would have longer-term implications and help define Biden's legacy early on. Last but not least, the Democrats hope that the bills will show Americans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections that the party is trying to help.

A common theme of Biden's presidency is his argument that Democrats need to show that democracy – and the federal government – can work for Americans' everyday lives. After a year of Covid-19, in which the federal response was far from competent, and after decades of government's role in everyday life has been shrunk and hidden (what experts call the "sunken state"), many have Lost trust that the government can work for them. Biden hopes that through immediate action that can affect people's lives can change.

As Biden said in his speech to Congress in April, “We have to prove that democracy still works. That our government is still working – and that we can deliver for our people. "

That starts with the bipartisan deal. And while the deal isn't as big as the other bill it allows, that doesn't mean the bipartisan deal alone won't do anything – on the contrary.

The bipartisan bill alone makes a big difference

With a price tag of $ 550 billion in new federal spending, the bipartisan agreement focuses almost entirely on physical infrastructure projects designed to rebuild parts of American society and address longer-term issues, from climate change to improving internet access.

Here are the areas where major new spending would be made:

Transport projects: The bill would spend $ 110 billion in new funding on roads, bridges, and related projects. It would also provide $ 39 billion in public transportation – which the Biden government dubbed "the largest public transportation investment in history" – and $ 66 billion in rail transportation. It would spend $ 42 billion on ports, airports, and related projects. And it would invest $ 11 billion to make America's roads safer.

Reconnected communities: In the last few decades of road construction, many American cities have been physically separated by major highways, which disproportionately affects minorities. The bill would spend $ 1 billion to reconnect many of these places.

High speed internet: The bill would spend $ 65 billion to bring broadband internet to all Americans, increase competition between providers, and reduce the cost of high-speed internet to make it more affordable.

Electric vehicles: The bill would put $ 7.5 billion into a national network of electric vehicle chargers. It would also allocate $ 7.5 billion to electrify buses and ferries. These measures, according to the Biden administration, are intended to create jobs, but also to help combat global warming by decarbonising key components of American transportation systems.

Other climate change measures: The bill would also make several other investments to combat climate change, including $ 28 billion in power grid infrastructure, resilience and reliability (in part to expand the reach of clean energy) and $ 46 billion in part to deal with damage To mitigate floods, forest fires and droughts.

Pure drinking water: The deal would spend $ 55 billion on clean water infrastructure, specifically to eliminate lead pipes and other hazardous chemicals in today's utility lines.

Clean up the environment: The bill would also allocate $ 21 billion for environmental remediation, particularly remediation of superfound and fallow land, abandoned mines, and orphaned gas wells.

The negotiators say the plan is being paid for through reused unused funds from the economic relief package, anti-fraud enforcement for unemployment benefits, a delay in a Medicare Part D rebate rule, and several other generally smaller sources.

None of this may be as exciting as the government sending you cash, but it's a big deal nonetheless: in addition to the traditional rebuilding of crumbling infrastructure that you would expect in such a plan, it also addresses a myriad of issues that were Very present in American lives in the last year or so. This includes global warming amid increasing droughts, heat and forest fires, but also problems such as the inability of many Americans to at least consistently work from home or go to school during the Covid-19 lockdowns due to poor internet access.

The deal is in some ways a step backwards from what Biden proposed earlier this year – and even the tentative bipartisan deal ahead of detailed negotiations. For example, funding for local public transport has been cut by about $ 10 billion. As Biden admitted, “Neither side got everything they wanted. But that's what it means to compromise and forge consensus. "

While enough Republicans – at least 10 – appear to be okay with the deal to overcome the Senate filibuster, others continue to oppose it. Former President Donald Trump has argued that the law would give Democrats a political victory, which would make it easier for them to win future elections. Republican lawmakers have raised separate concerns that the bill would overspend and fuel inflation, which they believe – although many economists disagree – is too high and dangerous.

Still, the deal seems to have cleared enough hurdles from the right, and to a lesser extent from the left, to likely pass the Senate and perhaps the House of Representatives in the coming weeks.

The deal opens the way to a much larger reconciliation bill

With the bipartisan deal in place, Democrats can now move on to a larger bill that they want to go through the budget reconciliation process, a limited maneuver that allows the Senate to pass a bill by a simple majority. That was part of a political calculation: The more moderate Democrats in Congress such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) wanted to show that they work across party lines – especially a popular move for Democrats in purple or red states – before they pass another big bill on a partisan basis.

The details of this bill remain up in the air. That includes cost: although it was originally set at $ 3.5 trillion, Sinema, a moderate thorn in the side of progressives, this week indicated that the price is too high for them.

What we know about the bill suggests that it will focus less on physical infrastructure than on "human infrastructure"; H. on projects that invest in people instead of physical things. Possible inclusions in the bill include an expanded child tax break, paid family and sick leave, universal preschool, free community college, a summer feeding program for low-income families with children, and grants for individual health insurance. The bill would likely also include a variety of measures to combat climate change, including tax incentives for clean energy and electric vehicles, as well as a civilian climate corps.

Democrats have suggested paying the bigger bill by raising taxes for the rich and stepping up enforcement against people who underpay or cheat their taxes, among other potential sources of income.

That would be a massive bill. Only one of these programs – be it an expanded child tax credit that is effectively Americanized Child Support, a paid vacation, or a universal preschool – would be considered a great achievement on its own. That Democrats can do more than one of these things at the same time is really a bloody big deal in Biden's famous words.

But all of this comes with the caveat that we don't know if all of these things will end up in the final bill. In fact, we do not know whether this law of reconciliation will even be passed. With the Democrats holding the House of Representatives with a few votes and the Senate with a 50:50 split and a tie for Vice President Kamala Harris, they really can't afford defectors. However, while the details are being worked out, there is still tension between progressives and moderates over the total price and what should be prioritized in the final language of the bill.

So it could all explode.

The same was true, in turn, of the bipartisan deal, which went through its own ups and downs as Democrats and Republicans struggled over and over to agree on various issues. Contrary to many of Washington’s expectations, it worked. Perhaps that also applies to the reconciliation bill.

In any case, it is worth taking a closer look. The bipartisan deal alone will have a huge impact on the lives of many people. The reconciliation bill is even bigger. Decades after former President Bill Clinton declared that the "era of great governments" was over, Biden is on the verge of showing that government can still help people on a grand scale.

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