WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called his infrastructure plan “bold” on Wednesday and insisted the massive piece of legislation is necessary.
“Put simply, these are investments we have to make,” he said during a speech in Pittsburgh. “Put another way, we can’t afford not to.”
The White House has billed the sweeping proposal, dubbed the American Jobs Plan, as a domestic investment not seen in the U.S. since the construction of the interstate highways in the 1950s and the Space Race a decade later.
The $2 trillion plan aims to rebuild the nation’s aging infrastructure, support electric vehicles and clean energy, and boost access to caregivers and their pay.
Now that Biden’s unveiled his infrastructure bill, it faces the grueling process of chugging its way through both chambers of Congress.
“We’d like to see progress by Memorial Day,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday. “We’d like to see the package approved by the summer.”
How will Biden pass it? Here’s what’s next for a legislative push and its chances of making its way back to the president’s desk:
What’s the timeline in the House?
House Democrats are expected to push for a vote on the massive plan in a couple of months.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Democratic Caucus on Monday that her goal is to pass the massive legislation by the Fourth of July, per sources familiar.
But she admitted that it could realistically slip later into July.
And while Democrats hold a majority in the House — 219-211 — it is a slim one.
With an eight-vote margin, Democrats can only afford to lose three votes from their side of the aisle to pass the infrastructure plan if no Republicans support it.
What about the gridlocked Senate?
Unlike other pieces of legislation the House has passed but are currently piling up in the Senate, the infrastructure plan may have to take a different route to Biden’s desk.
Usually, the Senate needs 60 votes to surpass the filibuster, meaning 10 Republicans need to join every Democrat and the independents who caucus with Democrats to pass legislation.
But Schumer aides hinted that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is eyeing using a budget process to pass Biden’s infrastructure plan with a simple majority, or 51 votes.
Budget reconciliation allows them to skip the major procedural roadblocks on items related to the budget.
The Senate is tied 50-50, and Vice President Kamala Harris would be able to break the tie.
Congress used budget reconciliation to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March without any Republican votes.
However, it has specific constraints on what can be in the legislation. It can also turn into a grueling process, such as the two voting marathons in the Senate during which any senator can force a vote on an amendment.
Schumer aides have been talking to the Senate’s parliamentarian about whether they again can use the 2021 budget resolution, the same used for the stimulus package. Usually, senators just use one opportunity to pass a budget resolution for fiscal year.
Leadership is arguing they can use a provision in the Congressional Budget Act to offer a “concurrent” resolution — which would allow Democrats another chance at reconciliation.
What’s in Biden’s the infrastructure plan?
The American Jobs Plan would allocate $621 billion to transportation infrastructure and resilience, including the repair and construction of roads, bridges, transit and rail service.
That includes $115 billion to modernize 20,000 miles of roads, fix the 10 most “economically significant” bridges in the USA and repair 10,000 smaller bridges in poor condition.
An additional $213 billion in the plan would go toward retrofitting and building more than 2 million affordable homes and commercial properties, and $111 billion would replace all the nation’s lead pipes and service lines and upgrade drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems.
Aiming to make the country more competitive against China and other nations, the plan would pump $180 billion into research and development in technology and climate science.
This includes $50 billion for the National Science Foundation to invest in new technology, $40 billion to upgrade outdated research labs, $35 billion to build technology to address the climate crisis and $10 billion for research centers at historically Black colleges and universities.
To pay for the sweeping package, Biden wants to raise taxes on corporations to pay for the eight-year spending package. He proposed increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% – raising the level set in former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts – and overhauling how the United States taxes multinational corporations by increasing the minimum tax on U.S. corporations to 21%.
Under the tax hikes and other changes – eliminating tax loopholes for intellectual property and denying companies deductions for offshoring jobs, for example – the White House projects the eight years of spending would be fully paid in 15 years and reduce deficits in the years after.
Will it get bipartisan support?
Biden faces a giant test politically in finding Republican support in Congress for the package, though infrastructure generally has widespread bipartisan support.
Before Biden even offered specifics of his aims to fix the nation’s roads, bridges and railways, Republicans in Congress panned it, claiming it goes too far beyond traditional infrastructure spending and comparing its climate aspects to the Green New Deal.
Republicans also balked at raising taxes — long a sticking point for Republicans to get behind big-ticket Democratic programs.
Despite the resistance from the start, Biden said Wednesday he is “going to bring Republicans into the Oval Office; listen to them, what they have to say; and be open to other ideas. We’ll have a good-faith negotiation with any Republican who wants to help get this done. But we have to get it done.”
During his speech, Biden touted times in history “infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans.”
“And I don’t think you’ll find a Republican today in the House or Senate — maybe I’m wrong, gentlemen — who doesn’t think we have to improve our infrastructure. They know China and other countries are eating our lunch. So there’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again.”
The Republican blowback prompted White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain to pledge Thursday they are prepared to move forward without GOP support if both sides cannot reach a deal.
Biden convened his first Cabinet meeting of his administration Thursday and deputized key Cabinet members, including the Labor, Transportation and Housing secretaries, to begin working with Congress and start explaining his jobs plan to the American public.
Reaction to the plan
Reaction to the infrastructure plan has varied, mostly guided by partisan politics.
Biden touted the legislation, saying, “If we act now, in 50 years people will look back and say this was the moment America won the future.”
A Democratic aide from a frontline office told USA TODAY that reaction from moderates in the caucus was “good” but noted they have a long road ahead without strict deadlines “pushing us to pass something fast.”
“Moderates ran on infrastructure, so we are all for a robust investment,” the aide said. But the “devil is in the details,” and the House needs to quickly hammer these out before they can gage solid feelings regarding it in terms of voting.
Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., chairman of the House Committee on the Budget, called the plan visionary and praised it for modernizing “our failing infrastructure,” creating “good-paying jobs” and taking on “climate change with the urgency this crisis demand.”
“With this proposal, we can transform our country and create a better future for all American families,” he said.
Progressives also applauded the plan, but challenged the Biden administration to go even bigger.
Appearing on MSNBC Wednesday night after Biden’s speech, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said the $2.5 trillion is a starting point for progressives in the House and is encouraging, but she called for $10 trillion over 10 years.
She continued she has “serious concerns it is not enough to realize the very inspiring vision that Biden has advanced.”
Republicans have made it clear they are interested in an infrastructure plan, but say it needs to be smaller and more focused.
Several have accused the White House of ignoring Republican input.
Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told USA TODAY that he knows “we need to update our infrastructure” but this plan “must be targeted towards road and bridges, and not used as a vehicle for irrelevant liberal policies that raise taxes on America’s job creators and their families.”
Braun said Biden is refusing “to work with Republicans, yet again” and instead using a ” ‘my way or the highway’ approach towards running Washington.”
Similarly, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, tweeted that an “evenly split” Senate and a “bare Democratic House majority are hardly a mandate to ‘go it alone.’ “
“The President should live up to the bipartisanship he preached in his inaugural address.”
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the No.3 House Republican, tweeted the package should “be a nonstarter in Congress” and “would result in the largest tax increase in American history to pay for Green New Deal spending.”
“This apparently is not going to be an infrastructure package,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who spoke to Biden Tuesday, said shortly after its release. The Republican called it a Trojan horse for borrowed money, debt and tax increases on “the most productive parts of our economy.”
He slammed it as a “major missed opportunity.”
Thursday, McConnell went a step further, saying the plan “is not going to get support from our side.”
West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the lead Republican on one of the panels working on infrastructure legislation, said there are ongoing negotiations but panned Biden’s plan a “clear attempt to transform the economy by advancing progressive priorities.”
Contributing: Joey Garrison