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It’s Really Infrastructure Week – A Stimulus Watch Update

Joe Biden, stimulus, COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines, infrastructure,

Wait, it’s Infrastructure Week again? 

Actually, we’re finally seeing major progress on the two infrastructure bills that have been percolating in Congress all summer. Here’s what we can expect in the days ahead. 

First, here’s an update on the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

As we’ve previously noted, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that’s now wholly overwritten by the Sinema-Portman Amendment includes a grand total of $550 billion in new federal infrastructure investment. More specifically, Senator Jacky Rosen (D) has touted $65 billion for nationwide broadband/high-speed internet infrastructure upgrades, $25 billion for airport renovations and upgrades, a pilot program to begin upgrading the cybersecurity of the nation’s power grid, and $8.3 billion for Western water infrastructure improvements (that includes $300 million specifically to ensure implementation of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, $1 billion for water recycling programs, and $250 million for ecosystem rehabilitation) as part of this legislation

On the Senate floor last Thursday, Rosen declared, “Our state’s broadband disparity limits many Nevadans – from rural and tribal communities to underserved areas in our larger cities – from using even the most basic internet services. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will bring broadband to communities that have long gone without access. It makes an unprecedented investment in building out broadband infrastructure. Never before has Congress taken such a bold step to get Americans connected. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will also help support a key industry in the Silver State – travel and tourism. It does so by providing much-needed funding for airports to expand and upgrade their terminals and facilities. As we prepare for a post-pandemic world, these critical investments will allow us to bring in travelers and tourists in even greater numbers; and as they come, these visitors will support our state’s local businesses, boosting our communities and our economy. Through the investments provided by this bill, Nevada’s travel and tourism industry can soar once more.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) vocalized her support for the final package: “It will help us prepare for a more sustainable future. It will create good paying jobs. It will strengthen the economy.” She continued, “This is an example of how Congress can work to the benefit of all Americans.”

Throughout the last week the Senate held a series of votes on amendments, including an amendment from Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) that reads as an attempt to expedite approval and construction of the State of Utah’s Lake Powell to St. George Pipeline project that failed on a 47-50 vote, with both Cortez Masto and Rosen voting against. Ultimately the Senate voted 69-28 yesterday to insert the Sinema-Portman Amendment into the bill, followed by a 68-29 vote to officially invoke cloture. Cortez Masto and Rosen both voted for Sinema-Portman and cloture, and the final bipartisan infrastructure deal is expected to pass the Senate later this week.

Next, let’s check in on the reconciliation infrastructure proposal. Bernie Sanders has some huge news for us.
Bernie Sanders
Photo by Andrew Davey

But wait, there’s more: Earlier today, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) dropped the official text of the budget resolution that acts as the initial blueprint for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation infrastructure package that he and other Congressional progressives have fought to include in Congress’ larger infrastructure agenda. As expected, Democrats agreed on health care: an expansion of Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage; an extension of the expanded Affordable Care Act/American Rescue Plan patient premium subsidies; new investment in home care and community-based disability services; a new program to close the “Medicaid Gap” and cover qualified low-income Americans that Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia), and Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia) demanded; and a new prescription drug cost saving plan.

Looking beyond health care, Sanders’ reconciliation infrastructure blueprint also extends the Rescue Plan’s child tax credit, establishes universal pre-K, creates the first federal paid family and medical leave program, increases Pell Grants and provides for two years of tuition-free community college ($726 billion total for “human infrastructure”), and launches a new ($332 billion) affordable and sustainable public housing program. More specifically on climate change, the reconciliation blueprint also imposes new polluter fees for carbon and methane emissions, provides new consumer rebates for home electrification and weatherization, invests $67 billion in renewable energy programs that includes solar programs for low-income communities, and launches a new $198 billion Clean Electricity Payment Program that includes direct federal investment and additional incentives to utility companies to switch to renewable energy and avoid sticking consumers with higher electricity costs.

Getting back to Cortez Masto and Rosen, both went on record last month in support of including comprehensive immigration reform in the reconciliation infrastructure package. In a major victory for them, for progressives and leftists, and for at-risk immigrants with undocumented status or temporary protection, Sanders’ blueprint includes $107 billion for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship and border security funding. In addition to immigration fees, Democrats are looking to reverse some or most of the 2017 Trump Tax Plan, increased IRS enforcement, and “health care savings” to provide for at least $1 billion worth of deficit reduction.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) not only supports Sanders’ reconciliation infrastructure plan, but he’s also promising that the Senate will vote for the budget resolution that acts as the reconciliation blueprint and launchpad later this week. From there, Schumer is setting a September 15 target deadline for multiple Senate committees to pass their respective portions of what will be the final reconciliation infrastructure package. And though Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) have very publicly complained about the current contours of the Sanders blueprint, all Senate Democrats are expected to vote to pass the budget resolution this week.

Finally, let’s review what will NOT be included in either infrastructure package… And what the Senate still has to do in order to allow for a better functioning government.
stimulus, coup, Parler, terrorism, Washington D.C.
Photo by Andrew Davey

I can already hear some activists shouting, “What about voting rights??!!” As we explained last month, Congressional reconciliation law and the Senate’s supplemental reconciliation rules stipulate that any reconciliation bill must not include anything that’s deemed “extraneous” or “merely incidental” to the federal budget. Democrats are already girding for a potential “Byrd Bath” fight over immigration reform, so there’s no appetite among Senate Democrats to spark a fight over including voting rights legislation into reconciliation that stands virtually zero chance at succeeding. The same goes for the Equality Act, for gun violence prevention legislation, and for other big-ticket Democratic policy goals that can not realistically be tied to the federal budget.

Then, there’s this: Sanders and Schumer also declined to include a raise or further suspension of the debt ceiling in this reconciliation package. This essentially sets up a very risky and high-stakes war over the basic functionality of the federal government that will either result in Republicans agreeing to a debt ceiling resolution as a part of a continuing resolution to keep the federal government up and running, or a combination government shutdown/debt crisis that could escalate into a far-reaching economic catastrophe. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for Congress to agree on a debt ceiling resolution on a “bipartisan basis”, but Republicans thus far seem more willing to listen to former President Donald Trump’s demands for them to launch another debt ceiling showdown (after Trump himself presided over historic growth of the national debt).

As we’ve been pointing out repeatedly, there’s only so much Congress can do under the Senate’s current filibuster rules. Even if Democratic leaders succeed in sending the two infrastructure bills to Biden’s desk, it may all be for naught if the economy collapses all over again due to a national debt default and millions of Americans essentially have their voting rights stripped away by far-right state legislators. While it’s nice to see Congress finally do something about much of our long-neglected public infrastructure, none of it matters if they don’t take care of the basic infrastructure of our democracy.

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Comments (3)

  1. […] we’ve seen in over half a century. And in the weeks ahead, Congressional Democratic leaders seek to pass two infrastructure bills that will go even further in rebuilding America’s economy – from our transportation system, […]

  2. […] course, there’s a whole lot more that we must do in order to make America a more equitable place for all of our workers. […]

  3. […] (with only $550 billion in new infrastructure investment) making it to Biden’s desk while the larger $3 trillion+ reconciliation package that includes Biden’s promised climate action plan, new affordable housing programs, Biden’s […]

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