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Essential Politics: 9 things to know about the infrastructure deal

President Biden and a group of senators prepare to address reporters outside the White House.
President Biden speaks with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the bipartisan group of senators who announced an infrastructure deal on June 24.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

This is the June 30, 2021 edition of the Essential Politics newsletter. Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get it in your inbox three times a week.

It was a massive proposal — for $2.3 trillion over eight years, to be exact. Then it was smaller, and still controversial. Counteroffers were made. Each party used phrases like “nonstarter.” Both sides at one point said negotiations had stalled. Finally, a breakthrough: “We have a deal,” President Biden said last week, ending this phase of negotiations for a massive investment in American infrastructure.

In the end, no one is ever entirely happy with a compromise. Late last week it was the Republican negotiators, who objected to Biden’s linking the nearly $1-trillion deal to another plan they oppose. As my colleagues Jennifer Haberkorn and Eli Stokols write, this week it’s progressives, who feel the compromise doesn’t go far enough. We’re left with a long-running cliffhanger — the infrastructure deal might hold as it’s translated into legislative language, or it might fall apart over the details. Such is the way of legislating in Washington, a Sisyphean exercise.

But largely lost in the play-by-play is perhaps the most important question for the viewers at home: What’s even in this thing?

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Nine things to know about the infrastructure deal

What kind of infrastructure are we talking about? Roads, bridges, mass transit and rail lines, broadband extensions, water systems and other construction projects. There was early disagreement about what “infrastructure” should mean. Biden and most Democrats wanted to “go big, bold and fast,” as Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) put it, beyond traditional ideas of infrastructure to address climate change, immigration and healthcare. Biden calls this expanded definition “human infrastructure,” but Republicans say it’s not infrastructure at all, and the five GOP negotiators refused to consider it.

What’s in this deal? While legislation is yet to be written, a fact sheet released by the White House said that highlights of the agreement call for $109 billion in new spending over eight years for roads and bridge projects, $7.5 billion for a new network of electric vehicle-charging stations, $55 billion to replace all lead pipes and upgrade water infrastructure and $66 billion in rail line expansion. There’s also $25 billion in new spending set aside for airports and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail, among other areas. Goals include upgrading power systems, investing in pollution cleanup and protections against climate and cyber threats, among others.

How much would it cost? $1.2 trillion over eight years.

How did they compromise? Biden worked with a bipartisan group of senators to reach an agreement. Democrats agreed to shed most of the “human infrastructure” elements, though some provisions that address climate change and clean energy remain. The deal costs half as much as Biden’s original proposal, but more than the Republicans had proposed. One of the largest compromises for both parties was over how to offset the cost of the package.

Where did the financing question end up? Biden proposed raising the corporate tax rate — a change that would have partially reversed one of former President Trump’s few legislative successes. Republican leaders were adamant: no dice. They did support raising the gas tax or introducing electric vehicle fees, but that would violate Biden’s campaign promise against raising taxes for Americans making under $400,000 a year. The two sides settled on providing more money to the Internal Revenue Service to audit tax returns, tapping unspent unemployment compensation and other emergency funds, selling from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and creating public-private partnerships to pay for the plan.

What do Democrats say? Party leaders in Congress insist on a two-bill strategy. “There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said last week.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the leaders “support the concepts” they have heard from the bipartisan negotiations, but stopped short of backing it. He also expressed support for the two-bill approach.

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What do Republicans say? Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who’s previously vowed to oppose Biden’s agenda generally, has not said he supports the deal. He’s instead pointed to issues that could prompt him to reject it, such as whether it is “credibly paid for.” On Monday, McConnell warned the deal would collapse if Democrats follow through with pushing a second bill containing the proposals that weren’t party of the bipartisan negotiations.

Is this the final deal? Nothing is a done deal until the House and Senate votes are cast and Biden’s signature is on the final bill. Even Biden has acknowledged that things are settled only “for the moment.”

What could go wrong? That a bipartisan group came to an agreement isn’t a guarantee of support from both parties. The dynamics of the narrowly divided Senate are also different from those of the Democrat-controlled House, where progressives are still pushing for more, as Haberkorn and Stokols reported this week.

Which brings us back to that potential second bill, which some Democrats want to push through with their slim Senate majority — a 50-50 split decided by Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden initially attempted to appease progressives by saying he wouldn’t sign a bipartisan package without the second one on his desk, then walked his statements back when Republicans said they would pull out of the deal. It’s not clear that Democrats have enough support in the Senate, but calls to pursue it are still coming from House Democrats.

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The latest from the Supreme Court

— The Justices ruled Tuesday that foreigners facing deportation who illegally reenter the country have no right to a bond hearing, strengthening the government’s power to hold such immigrants in jail, David G. Savage writes.

— The court on Monday took another step toward ending discrimination against transgender students by turning down an appeal from a conservative Virginia school board. The decision leaves in place an earlier ruling that said a trans student was denied equal rights when the school prohibited him from using the boys’ bathroom, Savage writes.

— On police use of force: The Supreme Court on Monday told judges to take a second look at the case of a handcuffed man who suffocated and died while under officers’ weight in a St. Louis jail. Savage writes that a federal judge and the 8th Circuit Court had thrown out a suit from the man’s parents, saying the “use of prone restraint” is not unreasonable.

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— The court rejected a plea by landlords to end the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evicting millions of tenants who aren’t paying rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The view from Washington

— Facing a shortage of hot shot crews as the West braces for a devastating fire season, Biden will announce plans to boost firefighters’ pay to a minimum of $15 an hour, write Chris Megerian and Anna M. Phillips. He will also meet today with Cabinet officials and leaders from Western states, including Gov. Gavin Newsom.

— From Tracy Wilkinson: Pope Francis and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken exchanged gifts and wisdoms Monday, but whether they discussed the politics dividing the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. remains anyone’s guess.

— Boston, a city with a history of racism, faces a once-unimaginable political tableau in the mayor’s race this year: the four top candidates are all women of color, writes Janet Hook.

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— The United States saw a boom in new Black-owned businesses during the pandemic — the largest surge in the last quarter-century, writes Don Lee.

The view from California

— Patrick McGreevy reports that California tenants will be protected from evictions for another three months, and those with low incomes will have all of their past-due rent paid by the state, under a bill signed Monday by Newsom.

— Also from McGreevy: California is expanding to 17 the number of states to which it is restricting government-financed travel because of laws deemed to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

— The governments of California and Mexico signed an agreement Monday stating their commitment to work together to open a third border crossing in the San Diego region by late 2024, writes Alexandra Mendoza.

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— Melanie Mason and Seema Mehta report that Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, whose association with a Holocaust denier and white supremacist generated a new round of controversy on Tuesday, will be the featured speaker at a conference for an offshoot of the California GOP aimed at galvanizing young Republicans.

— Will L.A. follow San Francisco’s lead and require city employees to get vaccinated? Kevin Rector writes that it’s unclear, but some officials have begun considering it.

— Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti intervened when his former high-level advisor pushed up against a female aide in a small elevator on Capitol Hill, the woman has testified in a deposition, Richard Winton reports.

Recall roundup

— The election is still months away, but tens of millions of dollars have been raised in the race to recall Newsom. Who has raised the most? Who are the donors? Maloy Moore and Ryan Menezes have the latest.

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— Newsom is fighting to have his party affiliation listed on the recall ballot. Julia Wick and Seema Mehta report that the governor filed a lawsuit Monday against California Secretary of State Shirley Weber asking the court to require Weber to print Newsom’s party preference.

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