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What’s up with the Infrastructure Package?
If you have been watching the news, you’ve heard a lot about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package (BIF) and whether or not it will pass the Senate. Right now, I’m feeling optimistic but it is like a puzzle where each piece must fall into place in the right order.
Currently, the BIF includes the Senate version of the transportation reauthorization bill. For our work, the transportation reauthorization bill is where our focus has been and will be -- it’s how the next several years of infrastructure funding and policy will be set. Because the BIF includes the Senate transportation reauthorization bills, if passed, it will increase funding for -- and improve policy around -- building biking and walking infrastructure and improving safety for vulnerable road users. We know this because both the House and Senate reauthorization bills include those changes.
The League continues to push for additional funding for biking and walking in the BIF, as well.
President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Schumer want the BIF to pass the Senate by August 6th, when the Senate usually adjourns for the Summer. In order to do that, the negotiating Senators must first address two major disagreements.
Right now, the biggest policy issue is around what percent of the overall bill should go to transit funding. Since the 1980s, Congress has agreed that 20% of transportation funds from the Highway Trust Fund should go to transit (and 80% would go to highways/roads -- sometimes called “the 80/20 split”) in every long-term transportation reauthorization bill. The Senate Republicans are trying to break that deal for the BIF (including reauthorization) and Democrats are fighting to keep transit funding at 20%.
The Bike League supports maintaining transit’s share at or above 20% because building a Bicycle Friendly America for everyone requires strong transit.
The Senators also want the bill to be (mostly) paid for. The current deal is being analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office to see if the plan will raise enough funds to pay for the new infrastructure. Part of the debate now is if some of the funding for this bill should come out of the COVID relief sent to the states this spring.
If the Senators come to a deal, what’s next?
If the bill passes the Senate, it won’t become law until the House passes it as well. While it is believed that the bill will pass the House as-is, there is at least one House leader pushing back.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who chairs the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, wants to make sure the INVEST in America Act, which the House passed, is conferenced with the Senate version of the transportation reauthorization bill (which is contained within the BIF). Conferencing a bill means that Republican and Democratic members of both the House and Senate debate the INVEST Act and BIF to come to a compromise bill. (For a bill to become a law, the exact same bill must pass the House and Senate.)
The League supports the conference committee so that the best ideas from both the House and Senate bills are included. The House bill goes a bit further than the Senate bill by funding biking and walking networks, creating a $500 million a year Safe Streets for All program, and including a performance measure to improve accessibility.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also has a voice in this. She has stated she will only bring the BIF up for a vote after the Senate has also passed a reconciliation bill that actualizes the Biden American Families Plan (on child care, college tuition, etc.) The reconciliation process will likely take until at least early September.
The reconciliation process is a three-step process.
The Senate must pass a budget resolution, which they will try to do before August 6th. The budget resolution gives a top-line number and then breaks up the spending so that each Senate Committee gets a slice/amount of funding they can spend.
Each Committee meets to decide how they will spend their piece of the pie.
All the committee pieces are put back together and the whole pie is voted for again. This is the reconciliation bill.
Assuming the Senate passes the BIF before August 6th, the time delay gives more time for the DeFazio’s INVEST Act to be conferenced in with the Senate BIF, including the Senate Reauthorization bill.
That means the House will not take on the bill until at least mid-September.
Watch a replay of our Federal Policy Update Webinar below and view the full presentation slides here.