Update From Washington, D.C.
Senate Eyeing Final Votes on Bipartisan Infrastructure Package
August 5, 2021
After a bipartisan group of lawmakers spent the weekend negotiating the final details of a sprawling infrastructure package, the Senate proceeded to move forward this week with consideration of the legislation (HR 3684). The centerpiece of the bill, entitled the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is a five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs. The legislation also includes funding for the electric grid, broadband, water infrastructure, wildfire mitigation, resiliency, environmental remediation, and more.
All told, the infrastructure measure would invest $550 billion in new spending over five years, and roughly $1.2 trillion over an eight-year timeframe. Among other things, HR 3684 would provide approximately $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges; $73 billion for power grid upgrades; $66 billion for passenger and freight rail; $65 billion for broadband expansion; $55 billion for water infrastructure; $50 billion for resiliency and western water storage; $39 billion for public transit; $25 billion for airports; $17 billion for ports and waterways; $15 billion for electric vehicles; and, $11 billion for road safety.
Of particular interest to forested counties, the legislation includes a three-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program. 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. The measure also would end the annual five percent reduction in SRS dollars and increase funding for the next three years to fiscal year 2017 levels.
The legislation would be financed through a combination of offsets, which include extending the annual sequestration of mandatory funding, redirecting a portion of unspent emergency relief funds (primarily Small Business Administration programs), blocking a drug rebate rule and other measures.
While a number of amendments have been filed to the bill, senators of both parties expect that the legislation will ultimately pass without major changes. In fact, senators have begun to discuss whether they can achieve unanimous consent to finalize the bill as early as Thursday evening. It should be noted that the chamber is likely to consider an amendment later today – sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) – that would allow states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to fulfill state matching requirements. The amendment, which has been endorsed by CSAC, also would permit local governments to use unspent COVID-19 relief funds on various local infrastructure priorities.
Looking ahead, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has indicated that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be paired with a much larger, $3.5 trillion package that would make investments in child care, education, and nutrition assistance, among other provisions. It should be noted that the latter proposal, which mirrors President Biden’s American Families Plan, is uniformly opposed by congressional Republicans. Accordingly, Democrats plan to use the budget reconciliation process to insulate the so-called “soft” infrastructure bill from a GOP filibuster.
Likely complicating the path forward, Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), a key swing vote, recently indicated that she will not support the $3.5 trillion spending target. Given the margins in the upper chamber, Senate Democrats cannot afford to lose a single vote. Moreover, across Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has criticized various aspects of the Senate’s physical infrastructure bill and is insisting on a series of changes to the legislation. If the House were to modify the Senate agreement, it is unclear whether the changes would be accepted by the White House or the bipartisan group of senators who spent weeks negotiating the deal.
The full text of the 2,702 page Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act can be accessed here.