WASHINGTON — The U.S. House cleared a massive $1.5 trillion package Wednesday that backers said would not only shore up the nation’s crumbling infrastructure but also create jobs at a time of widespread unemployment, protect the planet from a warming climate and narrow long-standing racial disparities.
The bill takes “bold, broad and transformational action to rebuild our infrastructure and make it smarter, safe and built to last while addressing key injustices in America, which have been laid bare in the Corona-19 virus,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday during debate on the House floor.
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, called the bill “a massive progressive wish list” that “simply piles more debt onto future generations.”
The bill passed almost entirely along partisan lines, with 233 lawmakers voting for it and 188 against. Three Republicans — U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith of New Jersey — joined Democrats in favor of the bill, while two Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Ben McAdams of Utah — joined the GOP opposition. All 12 North Carolina representatives voted along party lines.
The centerpiece of the package is nearly $500 billion for roads, bridges, rail transit, zero-emission buses, harbors and ports and carbon-reduction and alternative fuel programs.
It would also spend $130 billion to improve school buildings and more than $100 billion to increase access to affordable housing. And it would set aside $100 billion to increase access to high-speed internet service in rural and underserved areas, an issue that gained visibility as work, education and other aspects of social life shifted online amid the pandemic.
The far-reaching proposal also includes billions to shore up the nation’s water infrastructure and electric grid, upgrade hospitals and help community health centers, modernize the nation’s postal service, restore lakes and coastal habitats and clean up coal mines and oil and gas wells.
Lawmakers across a wide range of committees — including those with jurisdiction over transportation and infrastructure, energy and commerce, education and labor, financial services, science and technology, agriculture and others — left their imprint on the final bill.
“This is the product of so much knowledge, experience, the intellectual resources of people outside with their magnificent mobilization at the grassroots level for all of these things,” Pelosi said. “The intellectual resource of the entire Congress is manifested in this bill.”
She has characterized strengthening the nation’s infrastructure as a key avenue for bipartisan action, though other attempts to find consensus on the issue have failed in recent years.
President Donald Trump has also pushed for a massive infrastructure investment. In late March, he tweeted “this is the time” to pass an infrastructure bill and said it should be “big and bold” — on the order of $2 trillion — and should focus on jobs and infrastructure projects.
In April, Treasury Secretary Steven Munchin told CNBC that low interest rates make it a good time to invest in infrastructure and that he was discussing possibilities with Democrats.
Trump issues veto threat
But Trump threatened to veto the Democrats’ package Monday — the beginning of yet another “Infrastructure Week” on Capitol Hill — arguing that it is biased against rural America and would add significantly to the national debt. Read more