Infrastructure and "Build Back Better" Bills Held Up on Capitol Hill
More than 70 days ago, the U.S. Senate handed President Biden his biggest bipartisan victory yet — an infrastructure bill providing $550 billion in new spending, and $1.2 trillion overall, for highways, transit, water and broadband. ILTA, along with most in industry, supports the infrastructure legislation. Among many important investment the bill includes $2.5 billion in construction funding for inland waterways projects; $4 billion in Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funding for the Corps of Engineers; and, $1.5 billion for major rehabilitations and construction for rivers and harbors (including $250 million for small or emerging ports). This funding, if enacted, will significantly accelerate the modernization of America’s ports and inland waterways system.
The bill since has languished in the House of Representatives as Democrats fight among themselves to resolve disagreements over President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a larger climate and social spending legislative proposal. Without any Republican support, Democrats intend to pass Build Back Better through the budget reconciliation process that allows for budget-related legislation to pass with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes required to avoid a filibuster.
Progressive lawmakers have refused to vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill without an agreement on the larger package. As a result, public approval of Congress has dropped to a mere 26% and President Biden’s approval rating has fallen from the mid 50’s to a Trumpian low 40's.
Faced with pushback from moderate Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Krysten Sinema (D-AZ), White House officials and Democrats have been working to bring the price tag of the reconciliation package down from $3.5 trillion and to resolve other differences on provisions related to climate, health care, Medicare and taxes. Just last week President Biden suggested that any agreement would likely be trimmed to between $1.75 and $2 trillion.
On October 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted that Democrats would reach an agreement on the spending bills and pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Legislation during the week of October 25, saying that the final legislation is “90% there.” Unfortunately, her prediction has not come to pass.
Manchin has said that he wants to water down Medicare expansion proposals that would cover dental, hearing and vision, the climate provisions, and means-test benefits to keep costs down, while Senator Krysten Sinema opposes lowering prescription drug prices and the new tax provisions that were included as a pay for. Sinema's opposition to increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations complicates funding issues related to the bill. However, Pelosi still says that the Democrats will "fully pay for the plan." As it stands, Democrats now hope to have the bill passed by Thanksgiving.