Roads, broadband and bridges: Here's what's in the infrastructure agreement

WASHINGTON – The White House released details of the bipartisan Senate infrastructure deal, ending weeks of negotiations over the specifics of a plan aimed at modernizing the nation's deteriorating transportation and public works systems. 

The plan would direct billions towards renewing America's physical infrastructure needs, such as roads, bridges, railways, as well as broadband internet, according to details of the plan. 

President Joe Biden called the deal "the most significant long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century."

"This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things," the president said in a statement. "As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future."

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Biden and senators had celebrated a compromise over the plan last month, but the two sides squabbled over specifics, before reaching the agreement unveiled Wednesday. 

Although text of the bill hasn't been released, the White House said the deal includes $550 billion in new spending, slightly less than the $579 billion that Biden and the same group of senators announced last month when they reached an agreement on an infrastructure framework.

"Of course, neither side got everything they wanted in this deal," Biden said. "But that’s what it means to compromise and forge consensus – the heart of democracy."

The Senate on Wednesday evening voted to advance the bill to formal debate, pushing the legislation closer to a final vote. Democrats want to move quickly on the bill, one of Biden's priorities, before an August recess.

Senators had been working overtime behind-the-scenes to finalize the legislation over the last month, including a number of late-night meetings. 

Here's what's in the agreement: 

$65 billion towards broadband 

The bill dedicates $65 billion towards expanding broadband internet access, an issue that has been accentuated by the COVID-19 pandemic as social distancing restrictions forced businesses, schools and governments to conduct day-to-day functions online.

Biden and some lawmakers have been calling for an expansion of broadband to better serve low-income and minority communities.

More: Joe Biden wants to provide millions of Americans with high-speed internet. It won’t be easy.

Biden had originally sought to devote $100 billion to address broadband, but the infrastructure agreement cut that nearly in half.

The White House estimates as many as 40 million Americans lack access to broadband.

$110 billion for roads and bridges

Roads and bridges — the heart of the "physical infrastructure" Republicans stressed the legislation should largely focus on — would get $110 billion in new spending. 

More: More than 45,000 bridges rated in poor condition

America's roadways are deteriorating, with more than 45,000 bridges rated in poor condition.

Not many issues unite Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill like crumbling roads, airports and transit systems back home.

It would also reauthorize the surface transportation program for the next five years and build on transportation reauthorization bills that passed out of committees earlier this year.

"This investment will repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians," the details read.

$39 billion for public transit and $25 billion for airports 

The infrastructure package will include$39 billion for public transit, seeking to modernize public rail and other means of transport.

It would also dedicate $42 billion towards airports — which would receive $25 billion — as well as ports and waterways.

Biden and Democrats had originally sought to include electric charging stations, but Republicans, many of whom represent fossil fuel-producing states, were wary of adding progressive climate policies to a bill they generally believe should focus on increasing transportation capacity.

However, the final agreement does include $7.5 billion for electric vehicle stations and the same amount for electric busses. 

Also included is:

  • $70 billion for power infrastructure 

  • $66 billion for Amtrak

  • $55 billion investing in clean drinking water

  • $50 billion for water infrastructure 

  • $21 billion towards environmental remediation

  • $11 billion for transportation safety projects

  • $1 billion towards reconnecting communities divided by interstates 

How will this be paid for?

One of the obstacles the senators faced was how to pay for the legislation.

There had been debate amongst the bipartisan group over cracking down on wealth tax cheats and other provisions to pay for the amount of revenue needed to cover the costs. 

The White House announcement was vague about how to pay for the measure, saying it would be financed "through a combination of redirecting unspent emergency relief funds, targeted corporate user fees, strengthening tax enforcement when it comes to crypto currencies, and other bipartisan measures."

In addition, the White House said some of the bill would be paid for through "the revenue generated from higher economic growth as a result of the investments."

The agreement avoids taxes on the wealthy and stronger IRS enforcement — ideas backed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

Instead, the spending would be offset primarily by unspent COVID-19 relief funds from last year, targeted corporate user fees and strengthening tax enforcement on crypto currencies.

What's next?

The reveal of the agreement comes after Senate Democrats reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan that would expand Medicare, fund climate change initiatives and fulfill other parts of Biden’s economic agenda.

Democrats hope to pass that bill without Republican support using a legislative maneuver called reconciliation – on top of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Democratic leadership in both chambers of Congress, and the president, have long stressed a "two track" plan to pass a smaller bipartisan deal that aims at tackling traditional infrastructure, and a reconciliation bill that aims to assist in human infrastructure — such as child care and climate change.

The goal is to pass one, or even both, pieces of legislation before the chambers leave for a nearly month long recess in the month of August. 

However, Democrats need all 50 members of their caucus — including the two independents who vote with them — to vote in support of the reconciliation bill.

But the optimism towards that planned dimmed Wednesday when Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., revealed, just hours before a possible first vote on the bipartisan package, she does not support the $3.5 trillion budget plan yet, saying it costs too much.

More: Sinema doesn't support Democrats' $3.5T bill, clinches bipartisan infrastructure deal

Sinema's hesitation on the separate budget legislation may put the bipartisan track in jeopardy.

House Democrats have repeatedly said they will not vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal without the reconciliation package.  

"Without a reconciliation package that meets this moment, I’m a no on this bipartisan deal," Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., tweeted Wednesday.

Democrats cannot afford to lose too many progressives in voting for the bipartisan package. The legislation has to clear both chambers of Congress before it reaches Biden's desk.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Infrastructure bill agreement includes roads, bridges, broadband

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