In what could have been a slam-dunk bipartisan victory, President Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill could turn into a poorly played missed shot.
Senate Republicans have rolled out a $928 billion bill, which is less than half of Biden’s $2 trillion hope. Furthermore, only about one-quarter of the $928 billion is tied to new spending above existing levels. Still, Senate Republicans believe they have hit on most of the hot items in Biden’s proposal. The White House responded with some disappointment, stating some of the main items in the $2 trillion plan are not receiving enough funding.
The Republican Senate version would provide $98 billion for public transit and $46 billion for passenger rail, and also calls for additional spending for ports, waterways, airports and broadband connectivity. The GOP also has a different way to fund the measure: unused stimulus funds. Senate Republicans believe there is $700 billion still available in stimulus funds that were included in the most recent coronavirus relief package. Biden wants to finance his $2 trillion plan through tax increases on corporations, which is a non-starter among Republicans.
The Senate proposal does mean talks will continue into next week, and there is word that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) have joined together to create a bipartisan compromise.
A new wrinkle also appeared on the Democratic side, as more than 200 House Democrats are demanding union and labor protections in the infrastructure spending bill. Without the safeguards, many may not support whatever package is hammered out, or horse-traded.
The GOP proposal is separate from the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) $303.5 billion Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021, a bipartisan measure supported by the Association of American Railroads (AAR) and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).
“Although the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) appreciates continued efforts to reach bipartisan compromise on infrastructure legislation, we are deeply disappointed with the Republican Roadmap outlined today,” said APTA President and CEO Paul P. Skoutelas. “The Republican Roadmap proposes to cut current public transit investment by more than $15 billion over the eight-year period, when we should be making robust investment. It will only leave the country further behind in the decade to come—on restoring our economy; on providing transportation equity; and on addressing the existential threat of climate change. We also strongly oppose any efforts to rescind COVID-19 relief transit funding to pay for this proposal. We strongly urge the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to significantly increase forward-looking infrastructure investment that modernizes public transit and passenger rail systems and meets the growing and evolving mobility demands of communities.”
Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono contributed to this story.