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INFRASTRUCTURE: What you need to know!

21 Sep, 2021
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This week the Labor update is entirely dedicated to taking a deep dive into the infrastructure bills being worked on in Washington DC. While it can be tedious to unpack them, the two infrastructure bills make up the bulk of President Biden’s Build Back Better domestic agenda and will have massive impacts on union jobs and the lives of union members. It's worth taking a detour this week to give everyone an opportunity to understand them.

There are major categories of things to know;

1. What's in the bipartisan infrastructure package;

2. What’s in the reconciliation infrastructure package

3. How these two bills are tied together and the political issues that complicate their passage.

Please Note: These bills are in the process of being negotiated, and thus the details are continuing to change and evolve.  

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

On August 10th the Senate passed an infrastructure bill, formally titled The American Jobs Plan, on a 69-30 vote. It received support from all 50 Senate Democrats, as well as 19 Senate Republicans. Missouri Senator Roy Blunt voted yes and Josh Hawley voted no. Because it had the support of more than 60 Senators it could be passed through regular Senate order and could not be blocked by the filibuster.  

The Senate bill focuses mainly on investment in construction projects and is sometimes referred to as the hard infrastructure bill.

There are two numbers that you may hear associated with the Bipartisan bill. The first is $1.2 Trillion, which is the total cost of the bill. The second is $550 Billion, which is the totally new spending in the bill; the remaining $650 Billion is regularly scheduled appropriations for federal government operations. The Hard Infrastructure bill is mostly paid for. It sweeps unspent coronavirus relief money and unused federal unemployment aid while tightening enforcement of the tax code. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill would add approximately $250 billion to the debt.

Here’s what Missouri would get in the bill (over 5 years):

  • $6.5 BILLION dollars in highway funding
  • $484 Million for bridge maintenance and repairs
  • $674 Million for public transportation
  • $99 Million for installing Electric Vehicle charging stations across the State
  • Over $100 Million for installing broadband
  • $866 Million for water infrastructure including replacement of lead pipes
  • $246 Million for upgrading airports

In addition, on a national level, there is $66 billion dollar investment in railroads (I don't have Missouri’s share broken out), multiple multi-billion dollar funds for “Special Projects” (i.e. highway expansion) that Missouri could apply to for additional money, $17 billion for Ports, $21 billion for environmental (Superfund Site) clean up, $65 billion for investments in the nation's power grids, tax incentives for clean energy, money for cyber security and more.  

The bill currently sits in the House of Representatives. The House could either pass the Senate version and send it directly to the President's desk for signature, or make minor tweaks and send it back to the Senate.  

Reconciliation Bill

The second infrastructure bill officially titled the American Families Plan (sometimes referred to as the soft infrastructure or human infrastructure bill) is going to be partisan. Republicans will all be no’s, meaning Democrats will have to keep all 50 of their Senators together to get it out of the Senate.  

To circumvent the filibuster and pass the bill with 50 votes the Democrats will utilize a process known as reconciliation; this allows them to pass the bill with 50 votes as long as all items in the bill have a substantial (or primary) impact on the budget. What this means is that Democrats can spend money on the bill, but can’t pass policies that don’t spend money (i.e. they cant pass a national ban on right-to-work).

There have been no votes on this bill yet and it’s currently being negotiated- often in secret- so it's impossible to accurately predict what will be included, but the policies being considered are massive.

Here’s a sampling:

  • Universal preschool for 3 and 4 years olds. The plan would be administered through block grants given the States (similar to Medicaid)
  • Every American would be eligible for 2 years of community college at no cost to them
  • A Federally paid family and medical leave benefit for ALL workers
  • Extension of the enhanced child tax credit
  • Expansion of hearing, dental and vision benefits to medicare beneficiaries
  • A MASSIVE ($400 Billion) investment in home-based services for seniors and people with disabilities, to help them stay in their homes and out of nursing homes.  
  • Lowering the Medicare eligibility age
  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices
  • Investments and requirements to achieve 80% production of clean electricity by 2030
  • Rebates for home weatherization
  • Funding for job training programs

How The Bills Fit Together

Here’s where it gets complicated. To pass the bills Democrats can only lose 3 of their members' votes in the House and can’t lose any votes in the Senate, so the big tent party that spans from AOC to Joe Manchin all needs to be on the same page. Here is a (simplified) view of the obstacle course Leadership needs to navigate to pass the bills.

  • President Biden and Speaker Pelosi have said the two bills need to both passes together. Speaker Pelosi has said she will hold the Bipartisan Bill passed out of the Senate until the Senate passes the Reconciliation version. This is due to concern that moderates would get the bipartisan bill passed and then refuse to help on the reconciliation bill.
  • Progressive Democrats in the House have said they will kill the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill if it comes up for a House vote before the Senate passes the reconciliation bill.  
  • Moderate House Democrats have pushed for an immediate vote on the Bipartisan Bill. Speaker promised them that the bill will be voted on by September 27th (this is a self-imposed, not rule-based deadline)
  • Progressives, led by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT), have said that the floor for the amount of money spent on the reconciliation bill is $3.5 trillion. He’s insinuated if it's less than that he will help kill the bipartisan bill.  
  • Senator Joe Manchin (WV), who voted for the bipartisan bill, has said that $3.5 Trillion is too much and he will not support it.
  • Senator Sinema (AZ) has said that she will not support the prescription drug plan in the Senate reconciliation bill but has thus far not said what she will support.
  • Moderate House Democrats teamed up with Republicans in a Committee vote and killed the provision to let medicare negotiate drug prices.  
  • All the while the debt ceiling needs to be raised

All of these riddles must be solved to get the bill finally passed and to President Biden’s desk. With the additional urgency that if one of the Democratic Senators were to, unfortunately, pass away Mitch McConnell would become the Majority leader and the bill would be completely dead.  

The next week or two are some of the most critical weeks for union families and President Biden’s agenda. If both bills pass it will improve the quality of life and guarantee years of work for many union members. If the bills fail unions will rightfully question what the return is on the time and resources we invest in supporting politicians that say they will fight for us.