WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Saturday hailed Congress’ passage of his $1 trillion infrastructure package as a “monumental step forward for the nation” after fractious fellow Democrats resolved a months-long standoff in their ranks to finally seal the deal.
“Finally, infrastructure week,” a beaming Biden told reporters. “I’m so happy to say that: infrastructure week.”
On Friday night, the House approved the measure 228 to206. The relief of the Democratic side generated long cheers. Thirteen Republicans, mostly moderates, supported the legislation while six of Democrats’ farthest left members — including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri — opposed it.
Approval of the bill, which promises to create legions of jobs and improve broadband, water supplies and other public works, sends it to the desk of a president whose approval ratings have dropped and whose nervous party got a cold shoulder from voters in this past week’s off-year elections.
In Virginia, Democratic candidates for governor were defeated and New Jersey’s blue-leaning state won. Those setbacks made party leaders — and moderates and liberals alike — impatient to produce impactful legislation and demonstrate they know how to govern. Democrats cannot afford to appear in chaos a year prior to midterm elections, which could lead Republicans to regaining control of Congress.
Biden said the lesson of Tuesday’s elections was that voters “want us to deliver,” adding that Friday’s vote “proved we can.”
“On one big item, we delivered,” he added.
Biden says that the infrastructure package, which is an historic investment in any measure, compares to both the construction of the interstate highway network in the past century and the transcontinental railway in the previous century.
“This is a blue collar blueprint to rebuilding America,” he said in his White House remarks.
His reference to infrastructure week was a jab at his predecessor, Donald Trump, whose White House declared several times that “infrastructure week” had arrived, only for nothing to happen.
Democrats felt like they had a rush of adrenaline when the infrastructure bill was released for final congressional approval. But despite their win, Democrats suffered a setback in that they delayed a vote for a larger bill to be considered until later in the month.
After moderates requested a cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on this sprawling $1.85 trillion 10-year measure to support family, health and climate change programs, the measure was rescheduled. The delay shattered hopes of Biden achieving a double-barreled victory with the passage of both bills.
But in an evening breakthrough brokered by Biden and House leaders, five moderates later agreed to back that bill if the budget office’s estimates are consistent with preliminary numbers that White House and congressional tax analysts have provided. In the agreement, lawmakers agreed to vote on the bill’s social and environmental provisions by Nov. 15 to make a step forward in the House voting process that would ultimately lead to its passage to the Senate.
Clearly elated by the bill’s passage, Biden held forth at length with reporters for over a half hour Saturday morning, joking that his chances of getting the bill done had been written off multiple times before, only for him to be able to salvage it. He said he would wait to hold a signing ceremony until lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans who voted for it — return to Washington after a week-long recess.
The president acknowledged uncertainty surrounding his larger social and environmental spending package, saying “time will tell” whether he can keep popular provisions like universal paid family leave in the final version. He wouldn’t say whether he has private assurances from moderate Democrats in the House and Senate to pass the nearly $2 trillion bill, but said he was “confident” he would get the votes.
“We will pass this in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” he said. Biden replied that he knew lawmakers from the negotiation process and this explains why.
Biden predicted Americans would begin to feel the impact of the infrastructure bill “probably starting within the next two to three months as we get shovels in the ground. However, the law’s full effect will likely take many decades before it is fully appreciated.
His administration is trying to alleviate supply chain disruptions, which have been driving prices up on consumer goods in recent weeks. He also stated that he was going to visit certain ports that will benefit from this legislation over the coming week.
Pete Buttigieg (Transport Secretary) stated that while it is easy to invest the money in programs expansions, it will take more time to create new initiatives.
“There’s a pile of applications on my desk — figuratively speaking, they’re digital — but we’ve got about $10 billion worth of applications for a program that’s only got $1 billion in it,” he told CNN. “This is not just a short term stimulus bill.”
Biden said the investment would be viewed in 50 years as “When America decided to win the competition of the 21st century” with a rising China.
Jill Biden and the president delayed their plans to travel Friday evening from Washington, DC to visit their home in Rehoboth beach, Delaware. Biden instead spoke with House leaders, moderates, and progressives.
Rep. Pramila Japal, D. Wash., is the leader of Congressional Progressive Caucus. She said Biden had called her mother while she was in India. It wasn’t clear why.
“This was not to bribe me — this is when it was all done,” Jayapal told reporters. The lawmaker said her mother told her she “just kept screaming like a little girl.”
In a statement, five moderates said that if the fiscal estimates on the social and environment bill raise problems, “we remain committed to working to resolve any discrepancies” to pass it.
In exchange, liberals agreed to back the infrastructure measure, which they’d spent months holding hostage in an effort to press moderates to back the larger bill.
The day marked a rare detente between Democrats’ moderate and liberal wings that party leaders hope will continue this fall. The rival factions had spent weeks accusing each other of jeopardizing Biden’s and the party’s success by overplaying their hands. Jayapal, however, suggested that they work together going forward.
Democrats have tried for months not to use their White House and Congress control by pushing their top priorities. That’s been hard, in part because of Democrats’ slender majorities and bitter internal divisions.
“Welcome to my world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. “We are not a lockstep party.”
Democrats’ day turned tumultuous early after a half-dozen moderates demanded the budget office’s cost estimate of the sprawling package of health, education, family and climate change initiatives before they would vote for it.
Leaders of the parties said it would take many days. But with Friday’s delayed vote and lawmakers leaving town for a week’s break, those budget estimates should be ready by the time a vote is held.
In August, with bipartisan support the Senate passed the infrastructure measure.
The House would pass the Social and Environment Package. It would then be sent to the Senate for some changes. That’s chiefly because of demands by Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to contain the measure’s costs.
The 2,100-page, roughly $3.5 trillion measure was rescinded by moderates. Republicans object because it’s too costly and detrimental to the economy.
This package will provide assistance for large numbers of Americans to help pay for their health, care for children, and elderly persons at home. There are $555 billion of tax cuts that support cleaner energy and electric vehicles. Recent legislation by Democrats included provisions that restored a paid family leave program as well as work permits to millions of immigrants.
Much of the package’s cost would be covered with higher taxes on wealthier Americans and large corporations.
Reporting by Brian Slodysko, Farnoush Amiri and Cal Woodward were done in collaboration with Farnoush Amiri (Associated Press), Farnoush Amiri (Lisa Mascaro), Farnoush Amiri (Kevin Freking), Aamer madhani, Alexandra Jaffe, Mary Clare Jalonick, Farnoush Amiri and Farnoush Amiri).