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What’s Actually in the Infrastructure Bill?

Chris Kaiser

Pres. Biden’s expansive $1.7 trillion proposal to improve the nation’s “infrastructure” aims to overhaul American transportation.

Political Horse Trading

Bridge being built
Bridge being built

There are few things that our leaders in Washington agree on, but one of those is this: America’s infrastructure is badly in need of repair and renewed investment. Indeed, it’s hard to ignore the need for infrastructure investment when bridges like the one spanning the Mississippi on the boarder of Arkansas and Tennessee has a crack big enough to force the closure of interstate 40. And this isn’t an isolated incident, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave its own home country a C-minus on the state of its physical infrastructure. Crumbling, dilapidated, and perpetually back-of-mind, the nations roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure are far past due for an upgrade.

In March, the Biden administration released at $2.3 trillion dollar proposal titled the American Jobs Plan aimed not just at updating the nation’s aging infrastructure but largely reimagining it. The massive bill would pour money into everything from building roads and bridges to expanding broadband access and increase funding for child, elder, and disable care and a whole lot more in between.

Road under construction
Road under construction

The expansive definition of what constitutes “infrastructure” has rankled Congressional Republicans who balk not only at the bill’s price tag (funded largely by rolling back Trump-era tax cuts for corporations and high-earning Americans) but question whether things like additional childcare funding belong in an infrastructure bill.

As part of the month’s long negotiation process, Congressional Republicans proposed a counteroffer of $584 billion worth of funding. A far cry from Pres. Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion. This month, Biden and Democratic leaders offered a leaner version of their plan that shaves nearly $600 billion to $1.7 trillion. Just a few days ago, Republicans latest offer in the political horse trade was just under $1 trillion, notably designed to skirt any major increases in the corporate tax rate.

What’s In the Bill

Amtrak
Amtrak

A couple hundred billion and some major philosophical differences may still separate the two sides, but what does any of it mean for you, dear reader, taxpayer, and user of the nation’s infrastructure? Despite Republican’s criticisms of part of the bill, the American Jobs Act does do a whole heap to address America’s flagging infrastructure. Here are some of the big-ticket items to pay attention to (remember these funding figures are from the original version of the bill and most if not all of these numbers will change when and if any of it becomes law).

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Roads, bridges, highway, main streets, basically what people think of when they hear infrastructure, would receive around $155 billion. Another $20 billion would go toward improving road safety measures. Another $105 billion was proposed for public transportation improvements, not including and additional $80 billion for Amtrak improvements. $17 billion would go to the nation’s ports and water ways and $25 billion to improving airports. Other provisions include outlays for water infrastructure, digital infrastructure, and “human” infrastructure covering expanded spending on child, elder, and disabled care.

EVs Single Biggest Chunk

EV charging stations
EV charging stations

By far the largest single portion, a full $174 billion in the initial infrastructure bill proposal, was dedicated to funding the conversion of the American passenger car fleet from internal combustion to electric vehicles. These funds would help manufacturers with retrofitting factories, raw materials procurement, and battery production. New tax breaks would also be included for car buyers to incentivize EV adoption. The bill also calls for the creation of some 500,000 EV charging stations to be built throughout the country by 2030. Interestingly, Biden’s proposal also calls for the electrification of the federal vehicle fleet, including at least 20% of all yellow school buses.

Perhaps even more challenging than just incentivizing manufacturers and car buyers to go electric is making sure the electrical grid can handle the extra capacity. For that the American Jobs Act allocates $100 billion with a targeted expansion of an additional 20 gigawatts of new power capacity, including renewable energy sourcing and transmission lines.

The Haggling Continues

Construction on a busy street
Construction on a busy street

Few in Washington disagree on the merits of these infrastructure bill proposals, at least in the abstract, but, when it comes to the “sausage making” process of crafting legislation, things can get messy. If talks do break down, much will hinge on the actions of a few influential Democratic Senators including Kirsten Simena of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The two moderates would be key votes for Senate Democrats if negotiations fail and the caucus chooses the route of budget reconciliation as an end run around an inevitable Republican filibuster.

Though no one ever went broke in Washington betting against narrow political interests taking precedent over the national good, the current back and forth negotiations may actually signal the possibility we may finally get around to fixing our hobbled national infrastructure.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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