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Bipartisan infrastructure deal: What does it really promise?

On June 24, President Biden announced an infrastructure agreement amounting to $1.2 trillion. We'll explain what's in the plan and what comes next.

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The infrastructure plan could put more money into the economy.

CNET

The infrastructure deal struck on Thursday between President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators plans to pump an additional $579 billion in new federal investments to build up the country's crumbling infrastructure -- including roads, broadband internet, transit and electric utilities. While it could amount to one of the biggest investments in infrastructure in over a decade, the deal is scaled back from an earlier proposal laid under the White House's American Jobs Plan.

The agreement doesn't include spending earmarked for climate change, child care, housing, job training and education -- areas Biden made part of his initial jobs plan. Those elements may be left to a future budget proposal by Democrats, which the administration will push for along with the bipartisan agreement. That means this isn't an infrastructure "bill" as of yet. To use software development lingo, it hasn't even quite reached the beta stage. 

We'll explain the ins and outs here, including what the news means for you. Here are some related stories with the goods on the broadband plan and electric vehicle subsidies. If you want to know more about upcoming tax relief, here's a primer on this summer's child tax credit payments and the continuing tax unemployment refunds. This story was updated with new information.

What's in the infrastructure agreement and what isn't?

The new infrastructure agreement is a long-sought bipartisan compromise that would put $1.2 trillion in the economy over eight years.

Here's how the investment proposals would be broken down: 

  • Public transit, airports and rail: The deal includes $49 billion for mass transit, $66 billion for passenger and freight rail projects, $25 billion for airports and $16 billion for ports and waterways.
  • Roads and bridges: The proposal sets aside $109 billion for bridge and road projects, less than the $159 billion initially proposed.
  • Electric vehicles: The deal amounts to $15 billion total, which includes $7.5 billion to construct a network of electric vehicle chargers and another $7.5 billion toward electrifying school and transit buses. 
  • Water, sewer, power systems and environmental remediation: The deal amounts to $201 billion total, with $55 billion toward water infrastructure, $73 billion toward power grid improvements and some amount going to upgrade lead service lines and pipes.
  • Broadband: The deal includes $65 billion to improve the country's broadband system. The plan originally proposed $100 billion to provide accessible, high-speed internet service.

The deal doesn't include an earlier proposal to allocate $400 billion for long-term care services to the elderly and people with disabilities under Medicaid, nor does it include the $100 billion for workforce development to underserved groups. So it focuses on "physical infrastructure" and not what the Biden administration's referred to as "human infrastructure," such as money for expanded education, paid leave and child care and tax credits for families.

How will the infrastructure investment be paid for?

To start, the original proposal by the Biden administration to raise taxes on corporations to cover the cost of the new investments was rejected by Republican lawmakers. Then the GOP's own proposal that the money come from charging fees to electric vehicles or by indexing gasoline tax to inflation was rejected by the Biden administration. 

According to a White House fact sheet, the investments will be financed by a combination of the IRS collecting taxes that are overdue, repurposing billions from prior pandemic relief bills and unspent emergency funds as well as "public-private partnerships" and "asset recycling." A recent Bloomberg article notes that "asset recycling" is a policy favored by Wall Street where public entities get revenue to invest in new infrastructure by leasing existing operations to private sector investors.

Will the plan go forward? If so, when? 

The deal was mostly negotiated between a group of 10 senators, split evenly between the two parties, and was agreed to by a larger bipartisan group. The White House calls it a "Infrastructure Framework" for good reason. It's going take a lot of maneuvering to turn it into law, especially as many Democrats, including Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, say they won't support it unless the Senate first passes a broader package that includes priorities like child care and elder provisions. Already, some lawmakers are threatening to block it.  

Pointing to the demand for a reconciliation bill that includes elements of the earlier American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan, Biden said the two must move "in tandem." How does the procedural mechanism of reconciliation work in this case? Since congressional Democrats expect that Republicans will oppose the second part of the package, they would pass the additional legislation through a process that can advance the bill with a simple majority.

The process of reconciliation is complicated and time-consuming, so there likely won't be any major movement for weeks -- or months. Negotiations could go on through the fall. 

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The recent infrastructure package doesn't promise any direct economic relief to working families. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Is any more economic relief aid on its way then? 

Ever since the $1,400 stimulus payments under the American Rescue Plan, millions still struggling with economic hardship from the pandemic have speculated when more aid could be on the agenda. 

Here's an update:

Another stimulus payment: The IRS is still making one-time payments for the third third stimulus check as well as circling back to send "plus-up" payments to those it either missed paying or underestimated their payment amount. There is no commitment by the White House on a fourth round of payments, but the debate might continue alongside the economic rebound. 

Student loan cancellation: With student loan debt reaching $1.7 trillion at the end of 2020 -- for an average loan amount of $30,000 -- student debt is higher than auto loans and credit cards. In March, the Biden administration canceled some $2.3 billion in student loan debt to a handful of borrowers. Earlier this month, another $500 million got erased for former students defrauded by ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit chain that closed in 2016. Still, that's just a fraction of the roughly 43 million people who have debilitating student loan debt. 

Minimum wage hike to $15 an hour: With the current federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour (the same level since 2009), some legislators have proposed boosting that hourly rate up to $10 per hour or as high as $15 per hour. Over the past several years, some thirty states, the District of Columbia and forty-five localities have raised their minimum wage to above the federal level. Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would benefit at least 17 million people, but talks on the matter have stalled. 

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