According to what I can see, this bill is largely a status quo and highway-centric bill. House Transportation Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., one of the top advocates for more money for transit, stated Monday in an email sent to POLITICO. He said: We need a bill which is bigger and bolder and that takes advantage of this unique opportunity to propel our infrastructure into the modern age and beyond.
Peter DeFazio, House Transportation Chairman (D-Ore.), at a rally to support progressive infrastructure legislation on June 20, 2021. Francis Chung/E&E News
Separately, the bill offers $101 billion to high-speed rail. Biden's favorite Amtrak is also included in the bill. This money is a large amount but not enough to fund the second great rail revolution that he promised during his campaign. The bill does not fulfill the administration's promise to repair past transportation problems. It spends just one-fortieth of the amount Biden originally sought to use to demolish or rebuild highways that were bulldozed through communities and cut off low-income individuals from employment opportunities.
Biden has been calling for historic and transformative legislation, while simultaneously promising to bring together polarized Washington. Biden couldn't do either.
Progressives will look beyond the infrastructure bill on many issues to a larger package of $3.5 trillion that Democrats could pass with no GOP support. This package could be more aggressive in addressing climate change. The Senate deal may be the final word on infrastructure, but it might not make it into this bill.
Some legislators are seeing the positive side. Dick Durbin, Senate Democratic Whip (D-Ill.), noted that transit investment is historic.
Would you have preferred to see more electric vehicles? Or use sustainable or renewable energy instead? Durbin stated this on MSNBC. But, we have a 50/50 Senate. We cannot take the Republicans far, so we will take what we can.
Here's a summary of the 2,700-page legislative bill by POLITICO:
Transit agencies could see a significant improvement with the $39 billion included in this deal, which will allow them to reduce long-deferred maintenance queues. It could pay for improvements to improve their appeal to existing and potential new riders like reliable schedules and real-time tracking information. Buses that arrive every 10 minutes are also possible.
Highways will still be the priority in Congress' transportation spending priorities. DeFazio's House-passed policy language, which would have restricted the state transportation departments' ability to build new highways and widen existing ones, is also not included in the deal.
His bill would have allowed more money to transit and added to baseline spending. It would not have been a one time infusion like the difference between a salary increase or a bonus.
A few people are seen getting onboard a MTA bus' rear doors. Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images
Progressives and green groups had hoped that DeFazio's bill would be a major policy shift that would reduce the U.S. transportation sector's outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. They and DeFazio were instead left out of bipartisan talks that took place between the White House, a small group of moderate senators, and the White House.
Transit advocates are confused that the $10 billion transit cut announced by the bipartisan group last week, five weeks after reaching a deal in June was not enough to make it work.
Beyond the money, the House bill would have also required states to reduce their transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and improve safety for everyone not just for people traveling in cars.
It's not about the money. Beth Osborne, director at Transportation for America, stated that it is all about what you want. Are you concerned about climate or equity by building more highways, expanding more and spending less on transit? Is it possible to fill a hole using a teaspoon and dig with an excavator while digging?
According to POLITICO analysis, the agreement would provide $101 billion in rail funding over the next five-years. It is the White House's largest federal investment in passenger railroad since Amtrak was created.
The $66 billion of that amount is guaranteed funding, and it dwarfs the $9.3 billion that was provided in President Barack Obama's stimulus.
Transportation experts believe that the bill leaves many gaps, making it difficult to improve the substandard rail service in the United States.
The pandemic caused a drop in ridership on two MTA commuter rail lines, including the Metro-North, and severely affected the MTA's passenger numbers. | Mark Lennihan/AP Photo
One thing is that a third rail money isn't guaranteed it will be subject to Congress annual budget whims and could therefore fail to arrive if Republicans win one or both of the chambers of Congress. Amtrak supported some policy changes, including one that would have allowed passenger rail services to have more leverage over freight railways in order to gain access to trains. This is a crucial step towards ensuring that Amtrak's on-time performance.
Overall, the bill is mainly focused on repairs and upgrades, not new service, which can be a disappointment for some on the Hill.
It will allow repair, but it won't enable real rebuilding, stated Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), on Monday. This infrastructure proposal can address the backlog of maintenance and repairs, but not the huge rebuilding required for high-speed rail.
Although the bill does include some efforts to reduce US greenhouse gas pollution, its climate provisions primarily focus on helping communities to withstand natural disasters such as hurricanes and worsening floods rather than trying prevent catastrophic global warming.
One of the most important symptoms is the treatment of electric cars' bills.
eleOf $174 billion Biden initially proposed to assist Americans in switching to electric cars, the compromise only includes $7.5 billion for charging infrastructure. The compromise also provides a boost in grant money for low and no-emission buses. However, it gives a quarter of the money to buses that emit some carbon dioxide as a concession to natural-gas producers.
The bill would increase funding for innovative transportation technology research and deployment. It also spends billions on programs that are backed by fossil fuel investors, such as programs to allow coal- and gas-fired power stations to store and capture carbon emissions. It also includes $50 million for truck pollution reduction at ports, largely by electrifying port vehicles.
The $15 billion deal will remove lead from the nation's drinking water systems. This is especially important for low-income communities and communities of color who are most likely to be exposed to the neurotoxin.
It's still a fraction of what the White House originally requested to achieve its goal. It is also significantly less than the $60 billion the drinking water industry believes would be required to address the crisis. This was highlighted in recent years by lead contamination in Flint, Mich.
A piece of lead pipe that was found in his home during renovations by an environmental justice activist is shown to him. | Shafkat Anowar/AP Photo
The White House has not stopped declaring, even last week, that the bipartisan bill will allow plumbers and pipefitters in the country to replace all lead water pipes. This will ensure that every American child can use the faucet at school or home and have clean water.
DeFazio called the words of the president laughable.
He said that we were seeing a lot more spin out of White House, which is just incredible, during a conference call last week with reporters, noting $15 billion would not replace all lead pipes.
One of the final issues in the bill's text is that it would allocate $65 billion to help expand broadband service to rural and urban areas with low or no access to internet.
This is a huge sum of money to help close the digital divide. It also puts internet affordability issues front and center in a way Washington has never done before. One compromise is needed to seal the deal, but it's already becoming contentious.
The bills' attempt to address digital redlining (in which internet providers invest more in wealthy consumers or more lucrative markets, while offering lower speeds and less service for low-income customers) is a major disagreement. Final language states that all consumers should have equal access to internet services. However, this is only technically and economically possible.
Students at West Brooklyn Community High school learn online via laptops. Kathy Willens, File/AP Photo
This gives ISPs plenty of room to ignore poorer and minority communities. Fairness advocates argue that this is despite the fact that Congress has admitted that digital redlining does exist.
Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, stated that there was resistance in the past to admit this problem. However, the current text is full of loopholes.
The final bill still includes billions more in broadband subsidies and grants than was originally planned. The permanent status of subsidies that Congress established to assist low-income households in the midst of the pandemic is also being granted.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will receive a $2 billion boost in order to increase high-speed internet access across rural America. Access to broadband is a significant problem for remote workers and students in rural areas, as well as farmers who rely on it to access commodity markets and precision farming techniques.
A new tax target: cryptocurrencies
In order to close the tax revenue gap that officials believe exists in the digital asset market, the bill would require cryptocurrency trading platforms to report transactions to IRS. To finance infrastructure projects, the proposal is expected to raise $28 million.
The proposal would be similar to reporting rules that are triggered by investors selling stocks. Brokers are then required to report this information in order to determine tax bills.
Advocates and crypto lobbyists have been scrambling to define what constitutes a broker when it comes to digital currency. They claim it is broad enough to include so-called miners who operate the infrastructure that underpins major cryptocurrencies.
The Trump-era Medicare drug rebate rules would be delayed for three years by the package. Negotiators claim that this would save $49 billion.
This rule was designed to eliminate rebates drugmakers pay to pharmacy benefit managers, middlemen who ensure that prescriptions are placed on preferred insurance plans. These savings, which can amount to as much as half of a drug's sticker price, do not go directly to consumers. However, insurers claim they use these savings to lower premiums.
Democratic leaders claim that the Trump-era policy changes would have a cost of nearly $200 billion over ten years, as well as the possibility of higher Medicare premiums per month, make it impossible to implement.
Democrats plan to repeal the rebate rule as part of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. This is to help pay for party's health care priorities like expanding Medicare coverage and closing the Medicaid coverage gap.
There are several sources of funding that the package provides for government cyber defenses. Most of this money was kept secret until Sunday night's release of its final text. It provides $1 billion for state and local upgrades over four years, $20 million per year for a federal recovery and response fund, and $21 million for the funding of the national cyber directors office up to October 2022.
This bill also requires that certain operators of critical infrastructure, and grant applicants, submit cybersecurity plans to federal funds for the upgrade of systems like the electric grid or water treatment plants.
Group-IB's office, a global cybersecurity firm. | AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
Supporters were keen to make sure that security was included in Biden's first infrastructure plan. After a series of high-profile attacks in the past year, including a ransomware assault on Colonial Pipeline which caused a five-day shut down of large parts of East Coast gasoline supply, they gained momentum.
As even traditional infrastructure has a substantial digital component, cybersecurity provisions are necessary to protect the huge investments that the bill would make in our economy. Michael Daniel, who was the cybersecurity coordinator for Obama, stated that cybersecurity provisions were essential.
Trade and energy
New initiatives in the bill include $750 million in grants from Energy Department to domestic manufacturers to improve their factories for recycling batteries. The DOE would receive an additional $100 million each year for four years to finance pilot projects that create, process, or recycle rare earth minerals elements. This is necessary for many technologies such as electric batteries.
The bill provides funding for an Earth-mapping project to better understand the mineral reserves and money to build a rare Earths demonstration facility at U.S. Geological Survey. The bill would also increase research at DOE to give batteries a second chance.
The bill's entire focus is on American companies and prevents money from going to projects unless all iron, steel, and manufactured products used in the project are made in America.
This legislation would also direct departments of Energy and State, to conduct an investigation on Chinese forced labor involved in electric vehicle supply chains.
The deal will pour billions into Agriculture Department programs that aim to prevent natural disasters such as wildfires or floods, which have decimated farmers, ranchers, and rural communities in recent decades. The legislation provides $3.3 billion to the USDA and the Interior Department for forest management and fire prevention. Proposed legislation would also eliminate a $30 million cap on Reforestation Trust funds with the goal of planting 1.2 Billion trees in national forests within the next ten years.
A pilot program of $2 million is also created by the bill for USDA to work with academic institutions in order to examine the environmental and cost benefits of agricultural bioproducts used in construction. Mass timber, a building material that is becoming more popular and made of compressed layers from wood, can be seen as a more environmentally friendly alternative to concrete and steel.
Ports and waterways
The infrastructure bill would increase funding for waterways, port upgrades, and make $17 billion available for a range of programs. This includes $1.5 billion that the Army Corps of Engineers can use to upgrade river and harbor infrastructure.
This report was contributed by Sam Mintz and John Hendel, Alexandra S. Levine (Sam Sabin), Eric Geller, Ryan McCrimmon. Gavin Bade, Rachel Roubein, Sarah Owermohle, and Ryan McCrimmon.