WASHINGTON (WETM/AP) – Congress has been the center of tense drama for the past week as Democrats try to simultaneously raise the debt ceiling, keep the government funded to avoid a shutdown, and pass a $3.5 trillion spending plan.
On Thursday, September 20, the Senate and House voted to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling and keep the government funded through December 3 after Democrats removed the debt ceiling from the vote, something they will have to pass by October 18 in order to avoid a national default.
So what exactly is Congress trying to pass what does it include?
The Infrastructure Bill
There are two different bills in play right now. The first of the two is a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed in August.
However, it has been bottled up in the House ever since, on hold while the Democratic Party’s moderate and progressive wings have sparred over the details of the much larger separate package.
This bill includes a long list of plans:
ROADS AND BRIDGES
The bill would provide $110 billion to repair the nation’s aging highways, bridges and roads. According to the White House, 173,000 total miles of America’s highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges are in poor condition. And the almost $40 billion for bridges is the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system, according to President Joe Biden’s administration.
The $39 billion for public transit in the legislation would expand transportation systems, improve accessibility for people with disabilities and provide dollars to state and local governments to buy zero-emission and low-emission buses. The Department of Transportation estimates that the current repair backlog is more than 24,000 buses, 5,000 rail cars, 200 stations and thousands of miles of track and power systems.
PASSENGER AND FREIGHT RAIL
To reduce Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, which has worsened since Superstorm Sandy nine years ago, the bill would provide $66 billion to improve the rail service’s 457-mile-long Northeast Corridor as well as other routes. It’s less than the $80 billion Biden — who famously rode Amtrak from Delaware to D.C. during his time in the Senate — originally asked for, but it would be the largest federal investment in passenger rail service since Amtrak was founded 50 years ago.
The bill would spend $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, which the administration says are critical to accelerating the use of electric vehicles to curb climate change. It would also provide $5 billion for the purchase of electric school buses and hybrids, reducing reliance on school buses that run on diesel fuel.
The legislation’s $65 billion for broadband access would aim to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities. Most of the money would be made available through grants to states.
MODERNIZING THE ELECTRIC GRID
To protect against the widespread power outages that have become more frequent in recent years, the bill would spend $65 billion to improve the reliability and resiliency of the nation’s power grid. It would also boost carbon capture technologies and more environmentally-friendly electricity sources like clean hydrogen.
The bill would spend $25 billion to improve runways, gates and taxiways at airports and to improve terminals. It would also improve aging infrastructure at air traffic control towers.
WATER AND WASTEWATER
To improve the safety of the nation’s drinking water, the legislation would spend $55 billion on water and wastewater infrastructure. The bill would include $15 billion to replace lead pipes and $10 billion to address water contamination from polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — chemicals that were used in the production of Teflon and have also been used in firefighting foam, water-repellent clothing and many other items.
PAYING FOR IT ALL
The five-year spending package would be paid for by tapping $210 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid some states have halted, along with an array of other smaller pots of money, like petroleum reserve sales and spectrum auctions for 5G services.
The Larger Bill
Democrats are trying to pass a separate, larger, 10-year spending plan of $3.5 trillion that includes provisions for social programs and addresses environmental problems.
The bill as drafted—part of Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ Agenda— includes an assortment of long-time Democratic priorities, including an expansion of existing health, education and child care programs for Americans young and old. It includes provisions for free community college, free pre-K, extended child tax credit payments, expanded Medicare, paid family and medical leave, lower prescription drug costs, and climate change.
Republicans are lockstep opposed to the plan, which would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, from 21% to 26.5% on businesses earning more than $5 million a year, and by raising the top rate on individuals from 37% to 39.6% for those earning more than $400,000 a year, or $450,000 for couples.
Democrats are trying to pass the separate $3.5 trillion measure on their own by using an elaborate process called budget reconciliation. Using it allows the bill to bypass an otherwise certain GOP filibuster. But Democrats can’t move forward until they reach an agreement among themselves on exactly what the legislation should contain.