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The upshot of the infrastructure bill

The trillion-dollar legislation will fund roads, electric grids, and other big-ticket items

An Amtrak train in Philadelphia Associated Press/Photo by Matt Rourke, file

The upshot of the infrastructure bill

After months of bruising negotiations, late-night floor speeches, heckling, and quickly shifting vote counts, the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday passed a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that will fund projects ranging from railways to lead pipe removal to electric car charging ports.

What’s in the bill, who supported it, how will it affect the economy?

The infrastructure bill includes $110 billion to repair highways, bridges, and roads and another $39 billion to expand public transportation. Railway company Amtrak will get $66 billion to tackle its maintenance backlog and expand its service. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Monday his department will use a chunk of the money to remove or repurpose highways that were built through the middle of historically poor or nonwhite neighborhoods, slicing them apart.

The bill also funds perennial infrastructure needs like water system and electric grid updates along with newer programs like rural broadband service and electric vehicle charging stations. It sets aside money for various federal agencies to bulk up flood defenses, provide water to the drought-stricken West, and better forecast and mitigate wildfires. Altogether, the package authorizes $550 billion in new spending over the next five years and reauthorizes previous programs, bringing the total eight-year price tag to $1.2 trillion.

To pay for these projects, Congress tapped $210 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance money that some states had rejected. That sum won’t cover everything—the Congressional Budget Office predicted the infrastructure package will add $256 billion to the national debt over the next decade.

Nineteen Republican senators voted for the infrastructure bill in August, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called it a “godsend” for his state. But the bill faced stiffer opposition in the House, where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., urged his party to vote against it. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called the 13 House Republicans who voted for the bill “traitors.”

But at least one Republican, Nicole Malliotakis of New York, defended her support for the bill by arguing that passing the infrastructure measure removes progressive House Democrats’ leverage on President Biden’s larger social spending package. Progressive Democrats want the House to pass the $1.75 trillion package, but moderates and others facing tough midterm elections are wary of its high price tag. Progressives had threatened to tank the infrastructure legislation unless the House passed both bills together. With infrastructure passed, they can no longer make that threat. (Six House progressives did vote against the infrastructure bill last week.)

House Democrats have agreed to vote on the social spending package using the reconciliation budget process by Nov. 15. That deadline gives the Congressional Budget Office time to calculate how the massive bill will affect the national debt.

It will take time to feel the full economic impact of the infrastructure package as projects get underway. Moody’s Analytics, a credit rating firm, predicted the package would give the economy a “modest” boost, adding 800,000 jobs at its peak. Prices have climbed by 6.2 percent over the past 12 months, fueling concerns that the infrastructure and reconciliation packages will worsen inflation.

West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat whose vote is essential to pass the reconciliation bill in the Senate, has echoed those concerns. He tweeted Wednesday that lawmakers shouldn’t ignore the economic damage of inflation. (Moody’s acknowledged that inflation is unlikely to dissipate quickly, but argued the economy has room to absorb the two spending packages.)

Meanwhile, with the infrastructure bill’s passage, Democrats are taking a victory lap, hoping to cement a political win. Members of Biden’s Cabinet will travel to promote the bill, and Biden plans on signing it into law next week when lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., after a recess.

Esther Eaton

Esther formerly reported on politics for WORLD from Washington. She is a World Journalism Institute and Liberty University graduate and enjoys bringing her parakeets on reporting trips.


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