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The House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill late Friday night, cementing a key plank of President Biden’s legislative agenda after months of wrangling and disagreement within the Democratic Party.
In a speech the next day, Biden celebrated the “once in a generation” investment in the country's physical infrastructure. The bill, often called the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework, or BIF, includes $550 billion in new spending for a variety of things, including roads, bridges, clean energy, electric-vehicle charging stations, clean water and broadband internet.
The legislation was approved by the Senate in August, but stalled in the House due to progressive lawmakers' insistence that it be passed in tandem with a massive social spending plan that continues to be a source of heated negotiations within the party. In the end, six left-leaning Democrats voted no on the BIF, which would have been enough to sink the bill if not for the 13 Republicans who voted in favor of it.
Why there’s debate
To many political observers, the vote was a desperately needed win for Biden, who has seen his approval numbers drop significantly in the past few months as he’s dealt with a long list of challenges, including the coronavirus Delta variant, supply-chain hiccups, inflation and worrying losses in last week’s elections. Some pundits argue that Biden’s standing with voters will improve as they start seeing effects of the bill in their communities. Passing a major piece of bipartisan legislation also allows the president to make good on his central campaign message of competence and an end to partisan hostility in Washington.
Skeptics say that, as significant as the bill is, it likely won’t make much of a difference for Biden or the Democratic Party at large. They say it’s unlikely that enough of the infrastructure projects will be up and running in time for next year’s midterms — when Republicans have strong odds of reclaiming one or both houses of Congress. Others say that, although infrastructure is generally popular, most voters will judge Democrats based on the state of the economy and the pandemic.
Questions about the fate of the social spending bill also make it difficult to judge the BIF in isolation, many argue. They say passing the second bill could be a huge boost for everyone involved, but failing to reach a deal could be a political catastrophe.
House progressives voted largely in favor of the infrastructure bill based on a promise from moderates that they will support the social spending package as soon as next week. That pledge is on hold, however, while moderates wait for an official cost estimate of the plan from the Congressional Budget Office.
The bill gave voters a chance to see Biden at his best
“Nothing buoys a politician like success — or defying critics’ predictions of failure. Democrats can take some measure of comfort from Biden’s return to his sunnier tone, his self-deprecating humor, his jokey relationship with the media and his expressed empathy for ordinary Americans. Here is the politician who won the presidency by more than 7 million votes — and who will need to have their backs during the midterm battles that lie ahead.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Democrats can’t celebrate until the social spending bill also passes
“Mr. Biden and his congressional team deserve to bask in this moment. But they should give themselves only two cheers. There is more to be done.” — Michelle Cottle, New York Times
Democratic messaging around the bill is as important as what’s in it
“There's still real work to be done to repair the damage that's been done over the past several months and how Americans overall feel about the president. This legislation matters, it’s really important, but the White House is still explaining what this means and trying to break through.” — Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt to NBC News
Voters want to be led by a president and party that can get things done
“[Biden] understood Americans wanted a president who could actually tackle the nation's biggest problems. And Biden is on to something important. Competence means governance and problem-solving. It means getting things done, so voters can see tangible results.” — Julian Zelizer, CNN
The path is now clear to pass Biden’s other major legislative priority
“The bill's passage — combined with some positive news on the economy and the pandemic — could give Biden some momentum for tackling the next big piece of his agenda, a sprawling package of social programs, an overhaul of the tax system and billions of dollars of climate incentives.” — Tamara Keith, NPR
Democrats are still primed to get trounced in the midterms
“Early legislative victories can help a president’s reelection bid but won’t necessarily forestall midterm-election losses. All of which suggests a Democratic midterm wipeout is almost unavoidable.” — Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic
Months of infighting undermined what could have been a major win for Democrats
“What should have been a huge victory for Biden reads instead like a failure, unfurling all of the problems inside the Democratic Party. ... It came after delays that can only be seen as self-created. And it tested — if not revealed — the limits of Biden’s campaign pitch of being a skilled dealmaker.” — Phillip Elliott, Time
Voters may not give Democrats credit for the things the bill accomplishes
“You have to wonder if voters will really notice, or give Democrats credit. Put it this way: Do you notice when the roads you travel don't have potholes? Or when the bridges you cross don't collapse? You certainly notice when something bad happens — like when a bridge shuts down and creates delays, detours, and bottlenecks along your commute. Otherwise, you simply expect government to work.” — Joel Mathis, The Week
The scale of Biden’s agenda has already been slashed too much to move the needle
“[Moderate Democrats] have resisted robust and meaningful action. That’s made it harder for Biden to deliver on the promises he was elected to keep. That resistance is the problem Democrats face at this point — and it’s a serious one. It is standing in the way of Biden’s delivering on the campaign promises that got him elected, and it is preventing Democrats from giving the people what they want.” — John Nichols, New Republic
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