House Answers Decaying US Infrastructure With $1.5 Trillion Bill

Amtrak workers perform infrastructure renewal work beneath New York’s Penn Station in 2017. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House of Representatives passed a sweeping infrastructure bill on Wednesday, a $1.5 trillion package that pours money into clean-transportation initiatives, renewable energy, and programs for affordable housing and internet development. 

With additional investments in building up school and health care infrastructure, the bill also gives $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service.

It passed the House 233-188 on Wednesday afternoon, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said it will not have the same success in the Senate. The Kentucky Republican dismissed it Wednesday as a “multi-thousand-page cousin of the Green New Deal masquerading as a highway bill.” 

At the heart of the package is a nearly $500 billion fund to upgrade transportation networks, including $300 billion to repair existing roads and bridges and $100 billion to build out low-emission bus systems. Amtrak also receives a significant boost in funding meant to allow for additional passenger rail service.

Another $100 billion in the bill would go to building affordable housing, while $70 billion is set aside for upgrading the electrical grid to bring online more renewable energy.

An amendment adopted just before the bill’s passage Wednesday blocks money in the legislation from going to companies owned by China. Other amendments adopted Wednesday would allow Puerto Rico to issue driver’s licenses and add $4.5 billion per year to a fund for replacing lead water lines.  

“This bill is about making sure that our citizens get the support from their government that they deserve, to make sure that their communities are safer, that our schools are safer, that our drinking water is safer,” Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said on the House floor Wednesday. “This is about making sure that we put the resources into this country that’s so desperately needed and much of which has been neglected for far too long.”

The sprawling bill has earned the support of labor unions, who say its investments in infrastructure will create jobs in a time of unprecedented losses.

“These investments in American jobs could not come at a more critical time for the working people of this country,” the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO wrote in a letter to members of Congress on Tuesday. 

But to Republicans, the package is an unrealistic compilation of long-held Democratic objectives that balloons federal spending and has no chance of becoming law. A report from the Congressional Budget Office found the Democrats’ bill would increase the deficit by $449 billion over the next decade.

“Rather than pushing partisan wish-lists that would heap enormous amounts of debt on future generations, we instead need to find commonsense solutions to modernize our infrastructure spending so we can get the most from every dollar invested,” Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, said Wednesday. 

Though President Donald Trump has pushed for increased infrastructure spending, including in a $1.5 trillion bill released in 2018, the White House has threatened a veto of the House bill. In a statement of administration policy, the White House said the plan would unfairly advantage cities over rural settings and does not address delays caused by permitting.

“The administration continues to stand ready to work with Congress to pass much needed bipartisan infrastructure legislation,” the White House said. 

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