The infrastructure investment plan was definitively adopted by Congress on Friday evening. The social and climate plan remains to be voted upon. Democrats hope to capitalize on this first success in order to demonstrate their ability to act, and to improve the fundamentals of the American model.
“Today is a good day.” Joe Biden took pleasure, Saturday, in saluting the adoption of an infrastructure investment plan the day before in the House of Representatives. The bill will run over several years and is projected to allocate $1.2 trillion, $550 billion of which is for new funding, and provides for investments for refurbishing bridges, rails, roads, ports and airports, as well as electrical and internet networks and recharging stations for electric vehicles. Because the plan was already approved in the Senate in August, Biden, who wants to “build back better,” need only affix his signature to it.
The adoption of this first plan is a political victory for the American president, weakened by the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan, an election lost for his side in Virginia and inflation spoiling the exit from the COVID-19 crisis. Investing in infrastructure is a political sea snake: American infrastructure has aged and the United States has been overtaken in all international rankings by Europe and Asia. Donald Trump promised a major program of refurbishment, like his predecessors, without ultimately daring to dive into an issue that is recognized as among the most uncontroversial in the country.
One segment of elected Republicans, moreover, added their voices to the Democrats in order to adopt the bill (19 out of 50 in the Senate, 13 out of 213 in the House). That was initially Biden’s wish — to show that a political consensus was still possible in the United States. That ultimately was the saving grace of the bill in the House: Six left-leaning members of the Democratic Party, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refused to vote for the spending bill, not having received sufficient assurances as to the future of the social and climate plan negotiated in parallel.
Biden is only halfway through the fundamental reform he wants to carry out in the country before the midterm elections next year. The social and climate plan itself provides, in its totality, for free school from age 3, child care assistance, tax credits for the purchase of electric vehicles and tax increases for the richest in order to finance the whole package.
The White House, which would like a vote the week of Nov. 15, has already halved the anticipated expenditures to $1.75 trillion in order to clinch an agreement between moderates and progressives. The draft plan now sidesteps paid maternity leave*, after having postponed the minimum wage increase a few months ago.
No Democratic vote can be lacking in the Senate and only a small handful in the House, with no help this time expected from the Republican side. The president is experienced in congressional negotiations, but the progressives and the moderates are at each other’s throats more than ever. “I don’t negotiate in public. But I feel confident, I feel confident that we will have enough votes to pass the Build Back Better plan,” Biden said Saturday.
Democrats hope to capitalize on their first legislative success in order to demonstrate their ability to act and to improve the fundamentals of the American model, one year out from the midterm elections. “It’s going to create more jobs, good paying jobs, union jobs that can’t be outsourced,” Biden said. And these positions “don’t require a college degree,” he added, thus addressing the blue collar workers he wants to bring back into the Democratic fold.
The infrastructure plan, which must support growth, arrives in a period of workforce shortages and could help drive up wages and prices. However, the work will stretch out over nearly a decade. And if the total appears gigantic, it must be put into perspective alongside the size of the American economy — a gross domestic product close to $21 trillion last year. It will be financed by unused funds from the fight against COVID-19 and a series of fiscal measures (in particular on cryptocurrencies). All the same, the Congressional Budget Office foresees a deepening of the budget deficit.
*Editor’s note: Paid family leave is the issue that was removed from the most recent Build Back Better plan.