Third Track or Third Rail?

Infrastructure negotiations made a big bipartisan splash last week when President Biden announced – flanked by bipartisan Senate negotiators – that “we have a deal.”

In the days that have followed, negotiators and staff have turned to the difficult task of drafting the bipartisan infrastructure framework into actual legislative language.

If that wasn’t hard enough, White House and congressional leaders also need to make sure this deal actually has enough support to pass Congress. Given the narrower scope than many Democrats had demanded, it is clear that a second package will be needed – one more focused on pieces of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan such as housing, climate change, child care, job training, and much more that Republicans have thus far opposed. This second package will need to pass using the arcane reconciliation process to clear the Senate with only Democratic support.

While some Democrats may need to see those two bills as linked in order to support the bipartisan framework, Republicans will need to see them as distinct pieces of legislation, lest they be charged with enabling a massive spending spree. It is a legislative high wire act with trillions of dollars and a few political careers at stake.

Late yesterday morning, this balancing act got even more complicated when the House of Representatives opened up yet another track for infrastructure negotiations by passing H.R. 3684, the INVEST in America Act. This roughly $760 billion bill focuses on surface transportation and water infrastructure, fulfilling a pledge by House leadership to pass something before Independence Day.

For a relatively narrow bill, it contains some significant victories for the charitable sector and the policy agenda of the Nonprofit Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group (NIIAG). As the NIIAG co-chair organizations wrote in a letter yesterday, some of the key provisions include:

  • $109 billion for clean transit, including a more than 50% increase in rural transit, increased investment in zero-emissions transit vehicles, and a focus on low-income and underserved communities
  • $3 billion for a new federal program to reconnect communities damaged by infrastructure projects of the past. Eligible public entities may partner with universities (including historically black colleges and universities) and other nonprofits for planning and public engagement
  • Authorization of $53 billion for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, $45 billion for replacing lead water service lines, and $5 billion for PFAS water treatment grants

While the bill’s author, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), has expressed a desire to fold these 1,600-plus pages into the drafting of the bipartisan text, the INVEST in America Act was opposed by all but 2 House Republicans – making it an awkward fit for a delicate bipartisan deal.

Only time will tell whether this latest bill creates a third track to infrastructure success, or if it leads to a shocking disappointment.

Update: As of July 27, the House of Representatives has passed the INVEST in America Act, but it has not been taken up by the Senate as attention continues to focus on bipartisan infrastructure negotiations.

Types: Blog, Policy Update
Global Topics: Civil Rights, Congress, Infrastructure, NIIAG