Josh Bowk and Colleen Long | Associated Press
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden signed a $ 1 trillion infrastructure deal into law in front of a bipartisan White House lawn on Monday in front of a bipartisan holiday crowd, stating that a new injection of money on roads, bridges, ports and more will make life “change for the better ”for the American people.
But the prospects for further bipartisan membership ahead of the 2022 midterm elections are tougher as Biden reverts to tougher negotiations over his broader $ 1.85 trillion social spending package.
The president hopes to use the infrastructure law to restore his popularity, which has been hit hard by rising inflation and the failure to completely eliminate public health and economic risks from COVID-19.
“I want to tell the American people: America is moving again and your life will change for the better,” he said.
In a bipartisan deal, the president had to choose between a promise to strengthen national unity and a commitment to change. The latter measure negated much of his original vision for infrastructure. Still, the administration hopes to sell the new law as a success that bridged partisan divisions and lifted the country up with clean drinking water, high-speed internet, and a move away from fossil fuels.
“People, too often in Washington, the reason we didn’t get anywhere was because we insisted on getting whatever we wanted. That’s it, ”Biden said. “By adopting this law, we focused on achieving the goal. I ran for president because, in my opinion, the only way to move our country forward is through compromise and consensus. “
In the coming days, Biden will step outside Washington to market the plan more widely.
He intends to travel to New Hampshire on Tuesday to visit the state’s red-listed bridge for repairs, and on Wednesday he will travel to Detroit to stop at General Motors’ electric vehicle assembly plant, while other officials also diverge across the bridge. country. The president visited the port of Baltimore last week to highlight how investment in supply chains under the law can curb inflation and strengthen supply chains, a key concern for voters who are dealing with higher prices.
“We see this as an opportunity because we know the president’s agenda is very popular,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday ahead of the signing. Voter outreach can go “beyond the legislative process to talk about how it will help them. And we hope it will have an impact. “
Biden refrained from signing a stubborn infrastructure deal after it was passed on Nov. 5 until lawmakers return from a congressional hiatus to join the vibrant bipartisan event. On Sunday night ahead of the signing, the White House announced that Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, will help manage and coordinate the implementation of infrastructure spending.
Monday’s meeting on the White House lawn was unusually upbeat, with a brass band and peppy speeches that contrasted with the drama and tension when the package was in doubt for months. Speakers praised the measures taken to create jobs, fight inflation and meet the needs of voters.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican who negotiated the package, noted Biden’s willingness to drop much of his original proposal to help attract GOP MPs. Portman even expressed gratitude to former President Donald Trump for raising awareness of the infrastructure, although the 2020 loser has expressed strong opposition to the final deal.
“This bipartisan support for this bill is because it makes sense for our constituents, but a central approach should be the norm, not the exception,” Portman said.
The signing was attended by governors and mayors of both parties, as well as leaders of trade unions and businesses. In addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the guest list includes Republicans such as Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, Maine Senator Susan Collins, New York Rep. Tom Reid, Alaska Rep. Don Young and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
To reach a bipartisan deal, the president had to cut by more than half his initial ambition to spend $ 2.3 trillion on infrastructure. The bill, which becomes law on Monday, actually includes about $ 550 billion in new spending over 10 years, as some of the spending in the package has already been planned.
The agreement eventually won the backing of 19 Senate Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. Thirteen Republicans also voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. An angry Trump issued a statement criticizing “old raven” McConnell and other Republicans for cooperating on “a terrible democratic socialist infrastructure plan.”
McConnell said the country “desperately needs” money for new infrastructure, but he skipped the signing ceremony on Monday, telling WHAS radio station in Louisville, Kentucky he had “other things to do.”
Historians, economists and engineers interviewed by the Associated Press applauded Biden’s efforts. But they stressed that one trillion dollars is not enough to overcome the government’s decades-long inability to maintain and modernize the country’s infrastructure. Politics, in fact, forced a compromise in terms of potential impacts not only on climate, but also on the ability to stay ahead of the rest of the world this century and remain the dominant economic power.
“We have to be sober about what our infrastructure gap is in terms of investment levels, and open our eyes wide that this will not solve our infrastructure problems across the country,” said David Van Slike. Dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.
Biden has also tried unsuccessfully to link the infrastructure package to the adoption of a broader $ 1.85 trillion proposed spending package for families, health care and renewables that could help tackle climate change. This measure has not yet received sufficient support from the narrow democratic majority in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Biden continues to work to appease Democratic skeptics about the broader package, such as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, while sticking to the most liberal branches of his party. Pelosi said in comments when signing the bill on Monday that a separate package would be passed “hopefully this week.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz expressed concern in an interview with Fox News Sunday that Republican support for the infrastructure bill could ultimately lead Democrats to rally and support a second package.
“They brought Joe Biden a political victory,” Cruise said of his fellow Republicans. “Now he will be touring the country advertising, look at this major bipartisan victory. And this extra momentum, unfortunately, makes it more likely that they will get their Democrats in shape and contribute billions of dollars in addition to that. ”
Infrastructure bidding has shown that Biden can still unite Democrats and Republicans, even as tensions continue to escalate over the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by Donald Trump supporters who falsely believe that Biden was not the legitimately elected president. However, the result is a product that may not match the real threat of climate change or the transformative legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose portrait hangs in Biden’s Oval Office.
“Yes, the Infrastructure and Jobs Investment Act is a big deal,” said Peter Norton, professor of engineering history at the University of Virginia. “But the bill is not transformational because for the most part it is similar.”
Norton likened limited action to combat climate change to the outbreak of World War II, when Roosevelt and Congress reoriented the entire US economy after the Pearl Harbor attack. Within two months, a ban was imposed on the production of cars. Dealers had no new cars to sell for four years as factories focused on weapons and military equipment. To save fuel, a national speed limit of 35 mph was introduced.
“The emergency we face today requires a comparable emergency response,” Norton said.