(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden signed his hard-fought $1 trillion infrastructure deal into law Monday before a bipartisan, celebratory crowd on the White House lawn, declaring that the new infusion of cash for roads, bridges, ports and more is going to make life “change for the better” for the American people.
However, prospects for bipartisanship are less good ahead of 2022’s midterm elections. Biden is returning to the more challenging negotiations regarding his $1.85 trillion package in social spending.
He hopes to use infrastructure law to regain popularity that has suffered from rising inflation and inability to shake COVID-19’s economic and public health risks.
“My message to the American people is this: America is moving again and your life is going to change for the better,” he said.
The president was forced to make a choice between his pledge to foster national unity or his commitment to transformative changes in the bipartisan agreement. This final act reduced much of the president’s initial infrastructure vision. But the government hopes that the new law will be viewed as a victory by partisans.
“Folks, too often in Washington, the reason we didn’t get things done is because we insisted on getting everything we want. Everything,” Biden said. “With this law, we focused on getting things done. I ran for president because the only way to move our country forward in my view was through compromise and consensus.”
Biden will be able to promote the plan further outside Washington in the coming days.
He intends go to New Hampshire on Tuesday to visit a bridge on the state’s “red list” for repair, and he will go to Detroit on Wednesday for a stop at General Motors’ electric vehicle assembly plant, while other officials also fan out across the country. Last week, the president visited the Port of Baltimore to discuss how supply chain investments made by the law can limit inflation and strengthen supply channels. This is a major concern for voters dealing with rising prices.
“We see this as is an opportunity because we know that the president’s agenda is quite popular,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday before the signing. The outreach to voters can move “beyond the legislative process to talk about how this is going to help them. And we’re hoping that’s going to have an impact.”
After the deal passed on Nov. 5, Biden waited to sign it until lawmakers returned from recess so that they could participate in an exciting bipartisan event. The White House said that Mitch Landrieu (the former mayor of New Orleans) would manage and coordinate implementation.
The White House Lawn gathering on Monday was uplifting with brass bands and happy speeches. This contrasted well with the tension and drama that had been building for months about the fate of the package. It was praised by the speakers for its ability to create jobs, fight inflation, and respond to the voters’ demands.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who helped negotiate the package, celebrated Biden’s willingness to jettison much of his initial proposal to help bring GOP lawmakers on board. Portman also credited Donald Trump, the former president, for increasing awareness of infrastructure issues, even though he lost the 2020 election.
“This bipartisan support for this bill comes because it makes sense for our constituents, but the approach from the center out should be the norm, not the exception,” Portman said.
Signing included mayors from both political parties, governors, and leaders of labor and business. The guest list also included Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker, and Chuck Schumer as Senate Majority Leader. Larry Hogan.
To reach a bipartisan agreement, the president had more to reduce his original ambition of spending $2.3 trillion in infrastructure. In reality, Monday’s bill will include $550billion in additional spending in 10 years. Some of these expenditures were previously planned.
19 Senate Republicans supported the agreement, which included Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. Thirteen House Republicans voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. An angry Trump issued a statement attacking “Old Crow” McConnell and other Republicans for cooperating on “a terrible Democrat Socialist Infrastructure Plan.”
McConnell said the country “desperately needs” the new infrastructure money, but he skipped Monday’s signing ceremony, telling WHAS radio in Louisville, Kentucky, that he had “other things” to do.
Historians, economists and engineers interviewed by The Associated Press welcomed Biden’s efforts. But they stressed that $1 trillion was not nearly enough to overcome the government’s failure for decades to maintain and upgrade the country’s infrastructure. Politics forced an actual trade-off between the potential impacts on climate and the ability to surpass the rest of the globe this century while remaining the economic leader.
“We’ve got to be sober here about what our infrastructure gap is in terms of a level of investment and go into this eyes wide open, that this is not going to solve our infrastructure problems across the nation,” said David Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Biden tried unsuccessfully also to link the infrastructure package with a larger package that would have $1.85 trillion to be spent on family, health care, and a switch to renewable energy to address climate change. The House and Senate have not given enough support to this measure by the small Democratic majority.
Biden works to please Democratic skeptics such as Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia. While retaining the liberalest branches of his party’s party, he continues to try to appease them. Pelosi said in remarks at the Monday bill signing that the separate package will pass “hopefully this week.”
Ted Cruz, a Texas senator expressed concern that Republican support of the infrastructure law might eventually lead Democrats to rally behind the second package during an interview with Fox News Sunday
“They gave Joe Biden a political win,” Cruz said of his fellow Republicans. “He will now go across the country touting, look at this big bipartisan win. And that additional momentum, unfortunately, makes it more likely that they whip their Democrats into shape and pass some multitrillion-dollar spending bill on top of this.”
The bidding over infrastructure shows that Biden is still able to bring together Democrats as well as Republicans. Tensions are continuing over Trump’s Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, where Trump supporters falsely believed that Biden had not been legitimately elected President. Yet the result is a product that might not meet the existential threat of climate change or the transformative legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose portrait hangs in Biden’s Oval Office.
“Yes, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a big deal,” said Peter Norton, a history professor in the University of Virginia’s engineering department. “But the bill is not transformational, because most of it is more of the same.”
Norton said that the inaction on climate change was akin to World War II’s beginning, when Roosevelt and Congress resettled the whole U.S. economic system after Pearl Harbor. Two months later, the ban on automobile production had been implemented. Since then, dealerships were not allowed to produce new cars for the next four years. Instead, factories specialized in weapons and other war materials. A 35-mph national speed limit was established to reduce fuel consumption.
“The emergency we face today warrants a comparable emergency response,” Norton said.