Update From Washington, D.C.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Clears Senate Procedural Hurdle
July 29, 2021
On July 28, the White House and a bipartisan group of senators announced the details of a long-awaited infrastructure investment package. Shortly thereafter, the Senate voted 67-32 to end debate on a motion to proceed to the legislation, the text of which has not yet been publicly released.
While yesterday’s vote represents an important step in the legislative process, much work remains before a final infrastructure bill reaches President Biden’s desk. For starters, the measure will be subject to hours of floor debate, with Senate Republicans readying a series of amendments to the bill, most or all of which are expected to be voted down. Likely further complicating the path forward, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that the legislation – which would authorize over $1 trillion in funding for traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports, and waterways – will be paired with a much larger, $3.5 trillion package that would make investments in child care, education, and nutrition assistance. It should be noted that the latter proposal, which mirrors President Biden’s American Families Plan, is uniformly opposed by congressional Republicans.
Looking ahead, Democrats plan to use the budget reconciliation process to insulate the larger spending package from a GOP filibuster. In order to do so, however, they will need the buy-in of every Democratic member of the Senate. Incidentally, Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) has stated that she will not support spending $3.5 trillion for non-traditional infrastructure programs.
Summary of the Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
As expected, the Senate’s infrastructure framework includes the text of several major bills, including the Senate-passed Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (S 914), committee-passed surface transportation reauthorization bills from the Environment and Public Works Committee (S 1931) and the Commerce Committee (S 2016), and the Energy Infrastructure Act (S 2377), which was recently approved by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
All told, the combined infrastructure package would invest $550 billion in new spending over five years, and roughly $1.2 trillion over an eight-year timeframe. The legislation would be financed through a combination of redirecting unspent emergency relief funds, targeted corporate user fees, tax enforcement modifications, and other measures.
The infrastructure framework proposes $110 billion above baseline spending for key surface transportation assets, including highways, roads, and bridges. With regard to public transit programs, the legislation would provide more than $39.1 billion in new funding to address the infrastructure needs of the nation’s rail and bus systems. Investments include:
- Bridge Grant Programs – $36.7 billion. The bill would authorize a new competitive grant program to assist states and localities with the repair and replacement of deficient and outdated bridges. In addition to competitive grants, the final bill will reportedly include funding to support a bridge formula grant program.
- Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grants – $7.5 billion. The funding would boost available resources for RAISE grants (formerly known as the BUILD program), which supports surface transportation projects of local or regional significance.
- National Infrastructure Project Assistance grant program – $5 billion. The new program would support multi-modal, multi-jurisdictional projects of national or regional significance.
- Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) Grant Program – $3.2 billion to support highway and rail projects of regional and national economic significance.
- Public Transit Programs – $39.1 billion. Of the total, $4.75 billion would be for State-of-Good-Repair grants, $8 billion would be allocated for Capital Investment Grants, and $2 billion would be available to enhance mobility for seniors and persons with disabilities.
The legislation also includes a significant investment for passenger and freight rail ($66 billion), as well as $11 billion for highway & pedestrian safety programs.
The bipartisan framework includes $65 billion for broadband. The majority of the funding ($40 billion) would be for formula-based grants to states for broadband deployment, with the stipulation that projects would need to meet a minimum download/upload standard of 100/20 megabits per second.
The bill’s funding includes a 10 percent set-aside for high-cost areas. Under the legislation, each state and territory would receive an initial minimum allocation, a portion of which could be used for technical assistance and to support or establish a state broadband office.
Additionally, states would be required to have enforceable plans to address all of their unserved areas before they would be able to fund deployment projects in underserved areas. After both unserved and underserved areas are addressed, states could use funds for anchor institution projects.
Energy Title – Resiliency, Grid Infrastructure, Wildfires, and Western Water Infrastructure
The bipartisan agreement provides funding to address deficiencies in grid infrastructure, resiliency, wildfire risk reduction, and western water infrastructure. As indicated above, the proposal tracks the Energy Infrastructure Act, which was recently approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Specifically, the bill would provide $73 billion to upgrade the nation’s power infrastructure, including funds to build thousands of miles of new transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy. The legislation also would create a new Grid Deployment Authority, invest in research and development for advanced transmission and electricity distribution technologies, and promote smart grid technologies that deliver flexibility and resilience.
Among other resiliency investments, the package includes $1 billion for FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program. The proposal also would provide $500 million for a new program within FEMA that would help states establish revolving loan funds that could be used by local governments to carry out mitigation projects that reduce natural disaster risk.
With regard to wildfire risk reduction, the legislation would authorize nearly $3.4 billion for the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service to conduct various forest management activities, including hazardous fuels reduction, controlled burns, community wildfire defense grants, landscape forest restoration projects, and additional firefighting resources. The bill also includes $5 billion for utilities to bury power lines and install fire-resistant technologies to reduce wildfires.
Additionally, the legislation would dedicate a total of $8.3 billion for various water infrastructure programs and projects under the purview of the Interior Department, including $3.2 billion to address aging infrastructure; $1.15 billion for water storage and conveyance projects; $1 billion for water recycling; $1 billion for rural water investments; $500 million for dam safety; and, $250 million for desalination. The bill also includes $300 million for the Drought Contingency Plan.
Finally, the Energy portion of the legislation includes language that would reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program for an additional two years. The program, which is currently expired, provides assistance to rural counties and school districts affected by the decline in revenue from timber harvests on federal lands.
Other Major Priorities
In addition to the program areas described above, the legislation would authorize significant funding for ports and waterways ($17.3 billion), airport infrastructure ($25 billion), EPA drinking water and wastewater infrastructure ($23.4 billion), Brownfields competitive and categorical grants ($1.5 billion), and Superfund site cleanup ($3.5 billion).