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Progress on federal legislation to increase spending on America’s infrastructure has been a bumpy and circuitous road. It can’t, however, be a dead end.
Prospects for an infrastructure plan brightened last month with agreement on an outline between a bipartisan group of senators and the White House. Those hopes dimmed this week as some Republicans raised concerns about paying for the $1 trillion proposal while Democrats in Congress continue to pursue a larger, more comprehensive spending package.
As this discussion and maneuvering continues, the June agreement on infrastructure spending offers a blueprint that is worth returning to. The plan isn’t perfect. For example, it includes lower amounts of money than is needed for projects that will both prepare America for accelerating climate change and work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — a major contributor to climate change. Major investments are needed in public transit, renewable energy development and storage and planning that encourages and accommodates walking and biking.
Still, the bipartisan framework is an important compromise that should not be abandoned.
If a bipartisan deal can ultimately make it through Congress — and it should — it will show that lawmakers in Washington can work together to deliver policies that are both popular and good for the American people.
The agreement falls far short of what some progressives had sought, and is more than some conservatives support. That by itself doesn’t make it a good plan, but it reinforces that good governance often happens between these extremes.
The deal, which calls for more than $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next eight years, was brokered late last month by a bipartisan group of senators, including Maine’s Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. The bulk of the money will go to transportation, with about $200 million earmarked for broadband, power and water infrastructure. It does not include funding for so-called soft infrastructure, such as child and family care and unemployment insurance reform, which President Joe Biden had originally sought in an infrastructure plan. Democrats now say that funding will come in a separate bill.
It includes many of the same priorities outlined in a framework introduced by a bipartisan House group called the Problem Solvers Caucus that includes Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, although the caucus’ plan is smaller.
“Today, we’re proud to advance this bipartisan proposal to make a historic investment in America’s critical infrastructure needs, advance cleaner technologies, create jobs, and strengthen American competitiveness, without raising taxes,” the group of 20 senators said in a June 24 press release. “This agreement shows that the two parties can still come together, find common ground, and get things done that matter to everyday Americans. We are happy to have President Biden’s support, and will now get to work enlisting the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
That last part may be the most difficult as the proposal will need the support of at least 60 senators when it is turned into legislation, which means all the chamber’s Democrats plus two independents and 10 Republicans would have to endorse the proposal.
The compromise plan is notably backed by a diverse coalition, including business and labor interests.
“Enacting significant infrastructure legislation, including investments in our roads, bridges, ports, airports, transit, rail, water and energy infrastructure, access to broadband, and more, is critical to our nation and will create middle-class family-sustaining jobs,” it added. “Don’t let partisan differences get in the way of action.”