There is what should be and there is what might be. And then there is what will be. So it goes with politics, which optimists describe as the art of the possible.
Passing a massive infrastructure bill this year is a bipartisan priority and a major policy goal of President Biden. But having those positives lined up is only one set of variables that needs to be locked down.
For one thing, what Biden is proposing — $2.3 billion in spending, at last count — is more than a huge infrastructure bill. In fact, he calls it the American Jobs Plan. Its stated goal is three-fold: to “create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China.”
To be fair, there is plenty of spending in the proposal aimed at improving America’s highways, starting with a plan to modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads, and “main streets,” fix the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country in need of reconstruction, and repair the worst 10,000 smaller bridges.
Other infrastructure spending covered in the plan that will also likely benefit trucking includes spurring the development of a national network of 500,000 electric-vehicle chargers by 2030 and building out the nation’s high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100% coverage. And of course, plenty of the spending will flow to improve the public transit, passenger and freight rail, ports, waterways, and air transportation systems.
Few would argue those are not proper elements of an infrastructure plan. But there are a lot of other proposals in the Biden plan that are less likely, if not outright unlikely, to win votes in Congress.
For example, many Republicans may balk at deficit-spending to fund measures they view as not germane to infrastructure. Typical of these would be provisions such as the one calling for putting $400 billion toward expanding access to “quality, affordable home- or community-based care” for aging relatives and people with disabilities.
Not all Democrats are sold on all aspects of the plan, either. A report by The Washington Post, for example, has Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-New York) opposing the package if a cap on state and local tax deductions put in place during the Trump Administration is not rescinded. And Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) pushing to fund biofuel infrastructure, as it would help her state.
Once the Biden proposal is turned into an actual bill and moves out of committee, its passage will be complicated by how it will be put to a vote. Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) quickly passed Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief/stimulus bill with a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate by invoking special “budget reconciliation” rules. That meant Republican input to the legislation was moot.
What if Dems Can't Use Budget Reconciliation?
But that may not happen this time. Republicans plan to raise procedural objections to the bill on the grounds that various elements will violate the reconciliation rules, according to a report by The Hill.
To pull this off, the mechanism the GOP would deploy is known as the Byrd Rule, which restricts what can be included in Senate reconciliation measures by prohibiting provisions seen as “extraneous” to the budget.
If that threat pans out and the Byrd Rule is successfully invoked, Biden and Democratic leaders will have to make more overtures — and concessions — to at least some Republican Senators to get their votes – or will have to strip from the legislation the policy initiatives deemed by the GOP as a bridge too far.
The Republican Infrastructure Vision
Then there’s the infrastructure legislation Senate Republicans have just put on the table. Dwarfed by Biden’s plan, the GOP counterproposal released on April 22 calls for spending just $568 billion over five years.
GOP leaders aren’t floating this plan to win over Democrats. But provisions of their bill may be worked into the Biden plan if Leader Schumer must secure at least some Republican votes to overwhelm Byrd Rule objections.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia) ranked as one of the most bipartisan members of Congress. In a tweet, she called the GOP plan a “framework [that] continues our conversations w/Democrat colleagues & the administration.”
Let’s be clear, @potus’ proposal goes beyond what constitutes infrastructure.— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) April 22, 2021
Today, we set a clear path forward on core principles that DEFINE infrastructure & address our country’s needs.
This framework continues our conversations w/Democrat colleagues & the administration. pic.twitter.com/iuRbZsv4kw
American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear weighed in on the GOP measure in much the same vein.
“Legislating takes compromise,” he said in a statement. “This proposal is a good start, and more in line with the investment in last year’s House transportation bill led by Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio [D-Oregon].”
Spear stressed that the need for infrastructure investment requires that more members of Congress work together on critical priorities.
“We cheer the efforts by the president and the Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are brave enough to try and find a consensus.”
The stage is thus set. Ultimately, it will take epic horse-trading and crafty gameplaying on both sides of the aisle to move such a gargantuan package through Congress and send it to the president to sign into law.
All that sausage-making will make or break this bill. What stays in, what drops out, and what gets added to the mix is far from certain at this writing. Indeed, actual legislation based on Biden’s overall vision – that can be investigated and debated by House and Senate members – has yet to be introduced in either chamber.
Nonetheless, an ambitious timeline for passage has been floated by Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill. They envision holding committee meetings from April to May, leading to marking up a bill to be passed by the House by midsummer.
Then the legislation would be taken up by the Senate, with an eye to it being passed and then signed by the president before the August congressional recess, well before the expiration of the current infrastructure funding law (extended last year by Congress) in September.
Stay tuned. The Biden infrastructure plan is yet a proposal. And that means it is, in the truest sense, a developing story.