The bipartisan infrastructure deal: What we know and don’t know

The infrastructure deal could end up spending money just like our current transportation program does — it’s unclear. Graphic from Repair Priorities

In the midst of debates over a new long-term federal transportation law, there’s been nonstop coverage of a potential bipartisan deal on new infrastructure investment that has the White House’s backing, but much of the reporting raises more questions than it answers. What do we know about the potential deal, and what questions does T4America have? 

Capitol Hill has been abuzz in recent weeks about transportation reauthorization, whether the Senate’s dud of a highway title, the House’s much better all-in-one comprehensive proposal (The INVEST Act), or the Senate Commerce Committee’s very good rail and transportation safety title—though we’re still waiting to see the Senate’s transit proposal from the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. 

With those competing proposals to replace the FAST Act (expiring in September) in the background, a bipartisan group of 21 senators have been hammering out a standalone infrastructure package that can get the President’s endorsement and potentially pass both chambers of Congress. Just last Thursday (6/24), the bipartisan group of senators met with and secured President Biden’s endorsement of their broad deal on infrastructure. The deal’s details are still emerging and making political waves on both sides of the aisle, but here is what we know (not much), don’t know (quite a bit), and really want to know.

What we know

The infrastructure deal is a $1.2 trillion framework that would make historic investments in clean transportation, power, and water infrastructure; universal broadband infrastructure; and climate resiliency. The framework highlights proposed funding amounts and how to pay for such a transformational framework—the latter of which has received ample coverage from the Hill media at the expense of more substantial reporting on the actual real-world impacts of the deal, much to our consternation: 

One important note is that not all of this deal’s funding is new—the $1.2 trillion number also presupposes the passage of the Senate’s $303+ billion, five-year transportation bill, which we believe is largely a lackluster continuation of the badly out-of-date status quo

What we don’t know 

There’s a lot more that we don’t know about what’s in this deal, than what we do know.

The framework is very light on specific details as to precisely how these funds would be spent and what measurable goals they intend to achieve. Is this funding framework intended to put money into existing programs and existing transportation policy? Something proposed by the Senate and/or House?  Or something else entirely? After T4America was asked numerous times by the media last week if this bill has “enough” funding in it, there’s frankly just not enough information on “how” the money will be spent in order to make that call. 

Or as T4America Director Beth Osborne said in this New York Times’ piece about the deal:

“You can spend a trillion dollars in highways and not spend a dime on repair. So seeing something titled ‘Highways’ with a number by it doesn’t tell me what will be repaired so I can’t answer whether this is enough,” 

The bottom line here is, what are we paying for? Transportation for America believes strongly that if we are buying something, we want to know WHAT we’re buying before we decide how much *whatever it is* will cost.

What we want to know 

Will this bipartisan infrastructure framework move the needle on key issues that both sides of the aisle believe strongly about, or are they both giving up their core priorities just to get a “bipartisan” deal done? Will this framework shift the focus and paradigm in the nation’s transportation program towards addressing climate change plus equity and inclusion? Will this framework finally prioritize maintaining our existing infrastructure before expanding it, or will it just encourage yet further expansions to a dangerously growing maintenance backlog? Does the framework refocus the transportation program to serve people over vehicles, with special attention to improving our transportation safety and connecting people to jobs and communities?

Stay tuned to forthcoming developments on this potential nfrastructure deal as news becomes more clear.

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