Politics Biden wants trillions for infrastructure, but a hurdle remains: Spending the cash
The politics of going big
Women and people of color were crucial to Biden’s presidential win, and they’re crucial to his jobs plan.Taken together, President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan and newly introduced $1.8 trillion American Families Plan come out to slightly over $4 trillion in proposed new spending. It’s an enormous investment in American job creation; the last bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress passed in 2015 clocked in at about $305 billion — about one-thirteenth the size of Biden’s proposed plan. And Obama’s $800 billion stimulus plan of 2009 was about one-fifth of Biden’s plan, not even taking into account the $1.
WASHINGTON — Democrats are fighting to approve trillions of dollars in new spending to tackle everything from education to housing to clean energy, the culmination of years of work by advocates across the progressive movement. But finding the votes in Congress may be the easiest part.
The federal government has struggled in recent history to quickly translate cash from Congress into actual shovels in the ground. And for Democrats, deriving a political benefit would require that voters see and feel the impact before the 2022 midterm elections.
President Joe Biden will have to figure out how to spend the money on time, on budget and with the intended impact. Depending on how that all goes, Biden could end up as the next Franklin D. Roosevelt, lauded for restoring faith in big government programs, or unable to get his ambitious plan off the ground.
5 winners and 3 losers from President Biden’s first congressional address
Winner: Obamacare. Loser: Wall Street.“After just 100 days — I can report to the nation: America is on the move again,” Biden said during his speech. “Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.
“Policy positions don’t win elections, but policy results win re-elections,” Tom Perriello, executive director of the Open Society Foundation in the U.S. and a former Democratic congressman from Virginia, told NBC News. “The American people are asking one question and one question only: Will this work?”
Advocates and outside experts say the Biden administration is well positioned to route money through existing programs, boost state and local governments that have an existing backlog of infrastructure projects, and accelerate clean energy trends that already have momentum in the private sector.
But there are also lots of details to fill in and many potential hurdles to overcome, even if the money is approved.
Plans to boost access to care for seniors and disabled Americanswith plans to raise pay for caregivers. Billions of dollars to could run into objections from local communities who don’t want new power lines crossing their territory. The same “not in my backyard” mentality could also affect investments in affordable housing, which the Biden administration hopes to address with to change zoning laws.
Why President Joe Biden's speech to Congress was unlike any other in modern history
A joint sessions speech, known for its glad-handing cadence, was bound to be subdued with only 200 folks permitted at an event that can hold 1,500.President Joe Biden's address to a joint session of Congress was unlike any in modern history due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no more than 200 folks permitted for an event that can hold up to 1,500, an event known for its glad-handing cadence and rousing moments was destined to be subdued.
“There’s definitely people who've just been legislators versus governors who think the battle’s over once the president signs the bill, when actually that's just the beginning,” Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a former governor, said. “And we've seen, specifically, things like broadband — well-intentioned efforts not really get the expanded coverage that's needed. So how we put in place some kind of mechanism to measure implementation, I think, would be really important.”
'Find the devil'
The pressure is already on to manage benefits approved in prior Covid-19 relief bills. There have been delays into entitled taxpayers, for example, because the IRS lacks the resources to quickly process them.
Warner said he has been closely tracking implementation of state and local aid to make sure some unusual quirks in Virginia’s local governance structure don’t affect their payouts.
Joe Biden the Boring Radical Quietly Outshines Donald Trump the Predictable Showman
Joe Biden's approval rating has bested Donald Trump's for the first 100 days as president. Biden's style so far—calm or boring depending on your perspective—contrasts with what one political academic described as his "thunderous" agenda.As an experienced, career politician—a known entity having been vice president and a veteran senator before that—Biden was sold as a return to normalcy in the White House; a more familiar presidential tone from a unifying centrist Democrat.
Democrats and allied groups are encouraged by the Biden administration’s experience. The Cabinet is stocked with former mayors and governors who have dealt with these issues firsthand, as well as many veterans of prior administrations like White House chief of staff Ron Klain, who was Biden's chief of staff when Biden was vice president.
“It’s details where you always find the devil,” said Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., who served two terms as governor of his state and two terms as the mayor of Denver before being elected to Congress in 2020. “Obviously, with any large investment in infrastructure and a recovery plan, there are going to be places where you encounter the unexpected. And I will say that I’m impressed by the quality of the staff that are working on those issues.”
A cautionary tale is the 2009 stimulus, whose spending initiatives Biden oversaw as vice president. Then-President Barack Obama promoted the bill as being full of "shovel ready" projects that could quickly get people working.
But investmentsfailed to get past opposition from Republican governors, who killed transportation projects in Florida and New Jersey. Cost overruns derailed projects in Democratic states like California, where a plan to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles is stuck on more modest Central Valley line additions that are still in progress.
Barrasso likens Biden's infrastructure plan to 'addiction to spending'
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said on Sunday that his biggest sticking point when it comes to President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan was "the trillions and trillions of dollars of reckless spending."During an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Barrasso told host Martha Raddatz that Biden's infrastructure proposal was comparable to "someone with a new credit card." "It's the trillions and trillions of dollars of reckless spending,"During an appearance on ABC's "This Week," Barrasso told host Martha Raddatz that Biden's infrastructure proposal was comparable to "someone with a new credit card.
Many voters didn't immediately see or feel the benefits of the legislation, even as supporters now credit the clean-energy incentives with boosting the solar and wind industries and the mix of tax breaks and infrastructure projects with staving off a more severe recession.
The Biden administration has some advantages that Obama didn’t. A big one is time. Obama took over while the recession’s job losses were peaking and legislators were desperate to identify projects that could immediately put people to work. In Biden’s case, the economy is adding jobs, despite aon Friday, and there’s already a $1.9 trillion stimulus law on the books.
“I do think they’ve taken a lot of lessons from Obama,” said Carol Browner, chairwoman of the League of Conservation Voters and a former EPA administrator under Obama. “With Obama, the focus was very much on what we called ‘shovel ready’ projects. If I understand where the administration is, they won’t be limited to shovel ready; they recognize some of these investments take more time.”
The challenges will still be significant.
Browner is concerned about navigating the complexities of the clean energy industry, where every step in the supply chain from mining raw materials to manufacturing could slow its growth if mishandled. But she’s impressed so far with the administration’s foresight.
Susan Wright, congressman's widow, makes US House runoff in Texas
Rep. Ron Wright died just weeks into office after a COVID diagnosis. His widow, endorsed by Donald Trump, is now in a runoff for his seat.But who she will face remained too early to call. With nearly all votes counted, Republican Jake Ellzey led Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez by 354 votes in the race for the second runoff spot in Texas' 6th Congressional District, which has long been GOP territory.
“They’re not just taking one piece of a puzzle. They’re looking at the whole picture and making sure they’re moving all the pieces together,” she said.
Transportation experts say many of the bill’s goals are likely easier to implement than some of the more ambitious 2009-era efforts like high-speed rail, if not as flashy. While Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg isabout bullet trains connecting major cities across the United States and Amtrak is releasing plans for , funding in the Biden plan is more likely to go toward shoring up existing lines like on the busy Northeast corridor.
Buttigieg, for his part, has stressed that he's thinking ahead as to how transportation money would be distributed.
"It’s going to take a lot of work," he said in interview on Kara Swisher's New York Times podcast. "I mean, it’s one thing to write the check or sign off on the authorization for spending. It’s another to actually get these things in the ground, to get the broadband out to people, to construct the roads, whatever part we’re talking about."
Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, said that much of the infrastructure funding would most likely go to thousands of small projects at the state and local level, which are often already planned out and easier to get off the ground efficiently than larger ones. Think bridge repairs more than
“I have very little concern there are enough projects out there,” Tomer said. “The bigger question for me is how do we value return on investment: What are good projects versus questionable projects?”
With lots of individual components come lots of opportunities for things to go wrong, however, and Republicans will watch for waste, fraud and abuse.
In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked Obama over a $500 million-plus Department of Energy loan guarantee for Solyndra, a solar company that ended up going bankrupt. “You don’t just pick the winners and losers. You pick the losers,” he memorably said in their first debate.
Less remembered is that one of the other “losers” Romney name-checked in the exchange was an electric car manufacturer named Tesla, a DOE loan recipient that went on to become the seventh-most valuable company in the world.
Now, theis proof of concept for Biden’s ambitious plan to build thousands of charging stations, and Democrats are hoping they can point to similar impacts when they look back on things in a decade.
With that in mind, some in the administration are trying to manage expectations, especially with potentially tens of billions of dollars going to research projects on advanced technology that may or may not pan out. Even in a best-case scenario, there are going to be duds.
“Sometimes you swing and miss,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told Politico Nightly this month. "And that’s OK."
Republicans optimistic they can strike a deal on infrastructure .
Republican lawmakers left a meeting with Biden Thursday optimistic that an agreement can be reached on infrastructure, but they must act quickly to meet his deadline. While Biden has long projected a desire to work across the aisle on an infrastructure plan, he's also been clear that Democrats will forge ahead without Republicans if bipartisan talks don't yield swift results. The White House wants to see "significant progress" on an infrastructure deal by Memorial Day and Biden is aiming for final passage by the end of the summer.