Maryland lawmakers, bay advocates react to late-night passage of $1.2 trillion US infrastructure bill

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

The U.S. House cleared a $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill and took a major step toward passage of a landmark $1.85 trillion social spending and climate bill late Friday, following months of wrangling between Democrats’ progressive and moderate wings.

The votes marked a milestone in the marathon negotiations among members of the House Democratic caucus — and finally victory in sending billions of new dollars in roads, bridge and transit spending to President Joe Biden’s desk. “Tonight, we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” Biden said in a statement issued early Saturday.

“I look forward to signing both of these bills into law,” he said. “Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century.”

And while Biden’s sprawling Build Back Better social policy plan didn’t get a final vote, the president and House leaders said they’re confident that will happen the week of Nov. 15. House Democrats did approve on a party-line 221-213 vote a rule that sets the terms for debate when the Build Back Better legislation comes to the floor.

The physical infrastructure bill passed on a bipartisan 228-206 vote, with progressives like Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Andy Levin of Michigan and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey lining up behind it after a deal was struck between the dissenting factions of the Democratic caucus. In opposition were progressives like Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri.

Republicans who voted in favor included Reps. Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Fred Upton of Michigan. Maryland Republican Rep. Andrew P. Harris voted against.

Several hours before the votes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), standing alongside House Majority Leaders Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) did not answer questions on whether she had secured the 218 votes needed to pass the legislation.

“We’ll see, won’t we?” she said to reporters.

A deal reached

Under pressure from House leadership and Biden, progressives and moderates reached an agreement late Friday.

In a statement, five moderate Democrats — Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Ed Case of Hawaii and Kathleen Rice of New York — pledged to support the rule Friday and the underlying budget bill in its current form the week of Nov. 15 if projections from the Congressional Budget Office were consistent with White House budget estimates.

Following the statement from moderates, the chair of the House Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapa, (D-Wash.), said that her members had reached an agreement with House leadership and the president.

“Our colleagues have committed to voting for the transformative Build Back Better Act, as currently written, no later than the week of November 15,” she said in a statement. “As part of this agreement, at the request of the President, and to ensure we pass both bills through the House, progressives will advance the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the House rule on Build Back Better tonight.”

Moderates had pushed for an analysis from the CBO, the fiscal scorekeeper for Congress, before voting for the spending plan.

The moderates’ statement was enough to win the support of all but six progressives for the infrastructure bill. Thirteen Republicans joined most Democrats in voting to approve it.

The Senate passed an identical measure in August, so the next step is Biden’s signature.

The bill includes:

  • $351 billion for highways and bridges
  • $107 billion for transit
  • $73 billion for electric grid infrastructure
  • $66 billion for passenger rail
  • $55 billion for drinking water infrastructure
  • $42 billion for broadband deployment
  • $25 billion for airports
  • $17 billion for ports
  • $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations
  • $7.5 billion for electric buses and ferries

Maryland reacts

Maryland’s congressional Democrats hailed the passage of the bill as a historic investment in the nation’s physical infrastructure.

“Our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and upgrades. With this vote, we are making a down payment on a more prosperous, equitable economy for all,” Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D) said. “This legislation will modernize our infrastructure, reduce emissions, bolster resiliency and preparedness, expand broadband access and create more good-paying jobs in Maryland and across the nation.”

Rep. Anthony Brown (D) cheered the bill’s inclusion of additional funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, as well as provisions from the “Reconnecting Communities Act,” which he sponsored with other members of the Maryland delegation to reinvest in communities harmed by historically divisive infrastructure projects such as the “Highway to Nowhere” in Baltimore.

“This is how we begin to correct the mistakes past and build a more equitable state and country,” Brown said in a statement.

Rep. David Trone (D) cheered broadband provisions that will bring more than $100 million to connect Marylanders to high-speed internet and noted that 273 bridges and more than 2,200 miles of highway in Maryland are rated in poor condition. The bill would bring about $4.1 billion in federal highway aid, including a $70 million project to connect U.S. 219 to I-68, and $409 million to shore up bridges.

“Decades of under-investment in our crumbling infrastructure has taken a toll on every state including Maryland,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) said in a statement. “This bill is an opportunity to literally build back from the COVID-19 crisis better than ever. Funding for Maryland’s roads, bridges, waterways and broadband will not only create good-paying jobs, but will keep products and people on the move.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the bill will invest an additional $238 million for the EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program over the next five years. That works out to an annual increase of $47.6 million, or more than 50 percent higher than current levels. Once Biden signs the bill into law, the legislation would raise authorized funding for the Bay Program from $90.5 million to $138.1 million in the coming fiscal year.

“Investing an additional $47 million a year in the Bay Program will help put more boots on the ground planting streamside buffers, restoring oyster reefs, installing rain gardens, and pursuing the many other projects to reduce pollution that are central to implementing state cleanup plans,” said Denise Stranko, the Bay Foundation’s federal executive director. “We look forward to partnering with EPA to make the most of this timely budget increase while we still have time to save this national treasure. We owe future generations nothing less.”

Several members of the Maryland congressional delegation also issued statements promising support for the forthcoming vote on the Build Back Better Act.

“This [infrastructure] legislation, in tandem with our Build Back Better Bill, will transform our economy and make once-in-a-generation investments in the success of the American people,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) said in a statement. “From day one, I’ve been committed to bringing these investments directly to Maryland workers, students, families, and seniors. Together, these two bills will bring a brighter future – with greater opportunity and shared prosperity – to our state and our nation.”

But in a Saturday morning statement, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), who some are encouraging to challenge Van Hollen in 2022, called the Build Back Better Act “divisive and reckless legislation” and urged congress to reject it.

“This legislative success proves that it’s still possible for leaders of goodwill to overcome toxic politics and work together to solve serious problems, but it does not fix what is broken in Washington,” Hogan said of the infrastructure bill. “The extreme partisan tax hike and spending bill currently being debated by the House represents the very worst of Washington. The last thing our nation needs while inflation is rising and the national economic recovery is stalling is this massive grab bag of tax hikes, Democratic wish list items, and handouts to special interests.”

Child care at center of social bill

House Democrats also approved in a party-line vote a rule setting the terms for a vote on the larger spending plan that would provide $400 billion for universal pre-K for 3-and-4 year-olds and help ease the cost of child care for families, including by extending an enhanced child tax credit.

The social spending plan also includes climate provisions experts say could make a meaningful impact on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement came even as a group of centrist Democrats had wavered in their support of the so-called Build Back Better bill. Many raised concerns over the total cost.

One of the moderate Democrats, Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, gave her support for passing the rule to move Biden’s social spending package forward.

“Congress must unite to make that happen — lowering drug prices and capping insulin costs, investing in broadband internet, extending the refundable Child Tax Credit, tackling the climate crisis, and repairing Virginia’s roads & bridges,” she wrote on Twitter.

In remarks on the House floor, Pelosi praised the bills as “transformative” and said they were more significant than the 2010 health care law that was President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

She also acknowledged the delicate negotiations that were required to reach Friday’s vote.

“To craft and pass this bill, choices had to be made,” she said.

Democrats took to the House floor to promote both the infrastructure bill and social spending package.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat who chairs the Education and Labor Committee, said Build Back Better would make child care more affordable and allow millions of parents to reenter the workforce.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, highlighted the climate provisions of the bill. The measure would spend $40 billion to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector and improve resiliency from climate change, he said.

Republicans focused their opposition on the size of the package and the amount of spending.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, (R-La.), criticized some revenue-generating provisions, including taxes on natural gas and a provision to bolster Internal Revenue Service enforcement efforts.

Republican efforts

Before Democrats could begin debate on Biden’s social spending plan, Republicans filed a motion to stop consideration of the package.

Rep. Jason Smith, (R-Mo.) argued that the rule on the Build Back Better Act violated the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, which established the congressional budget process. In order for the House to be able to vote on the rule for later consideration of the social reform package, Democrats first needed a majority to vote against the point of order brought by Smith.

That vote was held open for nearly five hours as the Congressional Progressive Caucus strategized. The meeting stretched into dinner as lawmakers ordered pizza to the Capitol.

In a statement, Biden said he was “confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.” The House is in recess next week for Veterans Day.

But the bill faces an uncertain future in the evenly divided Senate.

Centrist Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have not said they’ll support the House version of the bill. Both have raised concerns about the topline spending number and Manchin said he does not support the paid family leave provision.

Senate liberals may object to the provision lifting the cap on the federal tax deduction taxpayers can take for what they pay to state and local governments.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), said he expects to start debate on the spending plan the week of Nov. 15. Senators would then have an opportunity to amend the House version.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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