The House finally cleared a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill late Friday that will provide an historic infusion of federal funding into rural broadband expansion and construction of roads, bridges, waterways and Western water projects.
The House separately punted action on President Joe Biden’s larger Build Back Better package of climate measures and social spending until after next week's Veterans Day recess.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act had easily passed the Senate Aug. 10 with support from 19 Republicans and all 50 Democrats. But the measure stalled in the House when progressives conditioned their support for the legislation on passage of the highly partisan Build Back Better measure. The public works bill only passed, 228-206, Friday night after a drama-filled standoff between progressives and a small group of moderate Democrats.
Starting in September, Biden sided with progressives in demanding that the House move both bills together, but the House was thrown into chaos Friday when a group of moderates balked at voting for the Build Back Better bill before the Congressional Budget Office delivers an estimate of its cost. Progressives, in turn, continued to resist voting for the infrastructure bill without assurances on the Build Back Better bill. But they ultimately relented after a group of five moderates agreed to support the bill if the CBO estimate is in line with one provided by the White House.
Biden issued a statement Friday night pressuring progressives to vote for the public works bill. "I am confident the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better bill," he said.
Thirteen Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill. Six Democrats voted against it.
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“Good things can indeed come to those who wait, and passage of this long-considered bill is a win for everyone in our country," said Kevin Scott, a South Dakota farmer who is president of the American Soybean Association. "Infrastructure is critical to the long-term success of not only the ag industry, but also the general health of American commerce and global competitiveness."
The infrastructure bill includes $550 billion in new spending; the rest of the funding involves extending existing programs.
The new funding includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $65 billion to expand broadband and $17.3 billion for ports and inland waterways.
Some $42.45 billion of the broadband funding will be distributed by the Commerce Department to states, territories and tribes, while $2 billion is designated for the Agriculture Department’s existing rural broadband programs.
Projects that are funded under the bill will have to provide speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload. States will be required to prioritize unserved areas for projects.
Another $9.6 billion in the bill is designated for Army Corps of Engineers priorities, including $5.2 billion for new construction, and another $8.3 billion would go for Western water needs.
Of the Western water funding, some $3.2 billion is allocated for aging infrastructure and $1.2 billion for water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects. Another $1 billion is allocated for water recycling projects.
Also in the legislation is $73 billion for clean power transmission and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail improvements.
The bill would provide $918 million over five years for the Agriculture Department's watershed programs.
The largest share of the funding, some $500 million, will go to the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, which is administered through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Another $118 million is earmarked for the Watershed Rehabilitation Program, which provides assistance to renovate dams. The program has a backlog of more than $500 million. Some $300 million is allocated for wildfire resilience in the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Also included is $10 million for a byproduct pilot program at USDA that would study the benefits of using materials derived from farm commodities in construction and consumer products.
The American Farm Bureau Federation also welcomed passage of the measure.
"We cannot afford to ignore the millions of miles of roadways, waterways and railways rural America relies on to keep our country fed, especially as we see widespread supply chain challenges," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall.
“Extending broadband to rural communities is just as much a priority. A quarter of America’s farm families have no high-speed internet access while working to meet the needs of a growing world. Investments in physical infrastructure like broadband will be critical to bridging the digital divide."
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers, which represents companies such as John Deere, had earlier pleaded with lawmakers to go ahead and pass the infrastructure measure.
“The need to make once-in-a-century investments in our roads and bridges, public transit, rail and ports, clean water, and broadband – not to mention the 100,000 family-sustaining equipment manufacturing jobs it will create – has never been greater," said AEM’s senior vice president of government and industry relations Kip Eideberg.
“The mounting economic consequences of inaction are hitting equipment manufacturers across the country at a time when they can least afford it.”
The fate of the Build Back Better bill is less clear. Even if the House approves it, it is likely to be scaled back in the Senate. The legislation includes more than $90 billion in agriculture provisions, plus tax incentives for biofuels.
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