The waiting will continue a bit longer for the long-awaited $1-trillion infrastructure bill.
After reports circulated that the House would vote on Oct. 28 on the package, a top priority for the construction industry, the chamber instead passed a further stopgap extension of federal surface transportation programs.
The new extension, which the House approved by a 358-59 vote on Oct. 28, would carry the highway and transit programs through Dec. 3. The programs had been set to expire on Oct. 31. Senate passage followed later in the evening.
A five-year surface transportation reauthorization, which transportation and construction groups much prefer to short stopgaps, is a central element of the broader infrastructure package, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
Construction and engineering groups were unhappy to see another short-term bill. Tom Smith, the American Society of Civil Engineers' executive director, said in a statement that again delaying the $1-trillion package "will have profound impacts."
He said that multiple stopgaps will prevent cities and states from advancing "critical transportation projects that connect people to jobs, improve public safety and make our communities more resilient."
Michele Stanley, the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association's vice president of government and regulatory affairs, said, "We are once again extremely disappointed that politics in the House continues to hold hostage a bipartisan infrastructure bill that the American people are yearning for and our nation desperately needs."
Stanley said that "the question today is not whether votes can be secured to support the IIJA, rather what can some members of Congress get in return for their vote before casting it."
Stephen E. Sandherr, the Associated General Contractors of America's chief executive officer, criticized members of both parties turning again to a transportation extension bill instead of the broader infrastructure measure.
"The Republican leadership chose to urge its members to oppose a bill that President Trump would have proudly signed into law," he said. "At the same time, many progressive Democrats opted to vote against the bill because of their ongoing desire to use the measure as leverage to pass a massive, partisan spending measure that would significantly expand the role of the federal government in many aspects of the economy."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a letter released in the evening to House Democrats, "The good news is that most members who were not prepared for a yes vote today have expressed their commitment to support the [IIJA]."
Biden's $1.9T Framework
The day began with President Joe Biden's unveiling of another major legislative proposal, a sweeping $1.9-trillion framework that focuses on health, education and other social safety-net areas—plus measures aimed at countering the harm from climate change.
The Build Back Better framework, which Biden formally announced in remarks at the White House, has some construction-related provisions, including billions of dollars for affordable housing and resilience against natural disasters, plus money for passenger rail, federal buildings and highway funding to reconnect neighborhoods divided by highways.
[View White House fact sheet off Build Back Better framework here.]
But for construction industry groups, the social-policy measure's major importance is that it is the key to unlocking the infrastructure package. The IIJA cleared the Senate on Aug. 10 on a strong, bipartisan vote. But it has been marooned there as liberal Democrats in the House have held up a floor vote in that chamber, seeking to have the Build Back Better measure agreed to as well.
Apparently the Biden framework didn't satisfy the liberal Democrats.
The plan has been to take up Biden’s framework under budget reconciliation, a procedure that protects bills from a Senate filibuster.
The 1,684-page text of the plan was posted just hours after Biden’s speech. It still would require House and Senate approval.
Democrats hold thin margins in both houses of Congress, but the negotiations leading up to Biden’s framework announcement displayed the divisions between Democrats’ centrist and progressive wings.
At $1.85 trillion, the new proposal is scaled back sharply from an earlier $3.5-trillion plan.
Biden said, "No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that’s what compromise is.”
Among the provisions that didn’t make the cut are plans for family leave for workers and a proposed $250-billion clean energy performance program. That program would provide grants to electric utilities that increase the clean-energy share of total electricity supplied.
But significant climate-related provisions remain in the plan.
Biden said that the framework includes “the largest effort to combat the climate crisis in American history” and it would result in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than one billion metric tons in 2030.
A White House summary estimates the measure's climate funding and other assistance at $555 billion.
Abigail Ross Hopper, Solar Energy Industry Association president and CEO, noted that at that level, climate and clean energy provisions account for more than 30% of the package's total.
She said in a statement that the framework includes “the most ambitious and transformational clean energy policies we’ve ever seen from Congress.”
Climate provisions include extensions and expansion of current clean energy tax credits and a new rebate focused on electrification.
About $105 billion would go to increase resilience against natural disasters. That includes $6 billion for coastal states to restore and protect habitats and resources. But some of the resilience funding would go for protecting forests, farmland and other non-building purposes.
The plan's climate provisions also would seek to stimulate U.S. production of clean-energy components such as wind turbine blades and solar panels, as well as electric vehicles. Other provisions aim to increase the competitiveness of the U.S. steel, cement and aluminum industries through such tools as grants, loans and tax credits.
Another construction-related element of the package is $100 billion for housing with some of the funds directed to building, rehabilitating and upgrading more than 1 million units of affordable housing. Some of that funding, however, would go for rental and down-payment assistance.
Highways, Water, Buildings Funding
Also in the bill is funding for a variety of other infrastructure programs, including $9.8 billion for a joint Housing and Urban Development and Federal Transit Administration program for grants to provide access to federal housing and increase mobility for residents and passengers.
There is about $1 billion in federal highway grants in the bill for projects that result in carbon reductions and, as Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation noted on Twitter, $10 billion for passenger rail.
In water infrastructure, the bill would provide $500 million for US Environmental Protection Agency grants for sewer overflow and stormwater reuse projects.
In the buildings sector, $2.4 billion would go towards US Dept. of Veterans Affairs facilities and $500 million to the US General Services Administration to upgrade other federal buildings to "high-performance green buildings."
To pay for the framework, Biden is proposing several new revenue-raisers, including a 15% minimum tax on corporations’ income, which the White House estimates would raise $325 billion. There also would be a 1% surcharge on corporate stock buybacks, raising $125 billion; and a tax surcharge on the income of the wealthiest 0.02% of individual taxpayers. That is estimated to raise $230 billion.