Thursday, July 29, 2021

What Is- and Is Not in the Infrasture bill ?

  David Dayen,  American Prospect.  july 29,202

Joe Biden got exactly what he wanted on Wednesday: a bipartisan deal on infrastructure that he could analogize as akin to the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, and something that "signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things," as he put it in his press statement. The motion to open debate on the bill passed the Senate by a 67-32 count on Wednesday evening, with 17 Republicans joining all Democrats.

Is the president exaggerating? Folks, come on, this is Joe Biden we’re talking about. Taken by itself, the bipartisan bill is a nice starting point for public-sector reinvestment. It comes out to an extra $110 billion per year for the next five on a variety of projects, offset by a batch of almost comical revenue ideas, which are fortunately more half-baked than actively harmful (though there’s a bit of that too).

It won’t change the world and, importantly, it’s unlikely to reverse a drastic trajectory on climate. But we can say that the legislation would likely return the United States to something closer to an industrialized nation in its built environment.

I say "likely" because several senators indicated they were only agreeing to open debate and not yet to support final passage. More important, the bipartisan bill was never supposed to be taken by itself; in fact, numerous House Democrats will not allow it to go forward without that additional budget reconciliation bill for investments in health care, climate, child care, education, and more, currently slated at $3.5 trillion. That makes Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-AZ) statement about the reconciliation package much more important than anything else.

Let’s go over the bipartisan bill, or as I’ve been calling it, Portman-Sinema. The original framework came out on June 24, and the agreement a month later honestly not different enough to have wasted a month. I did a little comparison of the topline spending in the two bills, and only two things went away: a $20 billion "infrastructure financing authority" and about $9 billion in transit spending. (The second half of this bill, the surface transportation reauthorization, has been mostly unremarked upon, despite the transit elements being the main sticking point through the weekend.)

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The financing authority, also called a national infrastructure bank, ran up against objection from the municipal bond industry, who roared against anyone else being able to finance public-works projects except their rather punitive selves. The transit funding was a Republican objection, and Democrats relented. The White House fact sheet claims that the surface transportation piece has a "larger share" devoted to transit than normal, so Democrats may have gotten their overall 80/20 split on older funding sources. (See here for details).

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