WASHINGTON — After years of President Donald Trump’s posturing about an infrastructure bill, House Democrats did a bit of their own posturing Wednesday, passing a $1.5 trillion package with almost zero Republican support.
The House passed the infrastructure legislation 233-188, with 230 Democrats and three Republicans voting yes, and two Democrats and 185 Republicans voting no. Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan also voted no.
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) began the debate on Tuesday by claiming that, in many ways, this infrastructure bill was also a coronavirus response bill.
“We are going to need an economic recovery,” DeFazio said on the floor. “This is going to look a lot more like — it already does — like the Great Depression. And we are going to need to put people back to work.”
As partisan as the vote was Wednesday, Republicans and Democrats did agree on one point: This was also an environmental bill.
DeFazio said Democrats had woven a number of environmental provisions into the legislation, and the main point of contention between Republicans and Democrats were these “green energy” programs.
“We have a disagreement in principle,” DeFazio said, referring to the issue of climate change. “And you can’t compromise on principle.”
Over the course of two days of debate, Republicans made that clear. The green energy provisions ― which were mostly tax credits for more environmentally friendly energy alternatives ― would cost $124 billion over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, though the bedrock of the infrastructure package was a $494 billion green transportation bill that DeFazio’s committee passed in June.
Also included in the legislation was roughly $300 billion to fix dilapidated bridges and roads, $100 billion to help fix schools, $100 billion for affordable housing, $100 billion for broadband internet, $40 billion in new wastewater construction, $30 billion in health care infrastructure, $25 billion in drinking water infrastructure, $25 billion for the struggling Postal Service, and tripled funding for Amtrak — to $29 billion — to allow for upgrades and rail expansions.
Republicans criticized the measure as a “leftist wish list,” and they complained that Democrats were pushing forward with a bill that had no chance of becoming law.
“If this were a serious effort, we wouldn’t be talking about passing a $1.5 trillion debt to future generations,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “We would be talking about real proposals to fix the finances of the Highway Trust Fund instead of the majority pointing fingers at the president and Republicans, despite the fact that they wrote the entire partisan proposal in the speaker’s office.”
But Democrats countered that Trump has called for a sweeping infrastructure package for years. In fact, as DeFazio pointed out, Trump told Democrats he wanted a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, and he said items like highways, bridges, rails, wastewater, drinking water, and broadband all qualified as infrastructure.
“All of those things are in this package at — or near — the level that he asked,” DeFazio said, noting that the White House had now held seven “infrastructure weeks.”
The White House, for its part, issued a veto threat for the legislation on Monday, saying the bill was “problematic” for several reasons.
“It is heavily biased against rural America,” the White House said in its statement. “It also appears to be entirely debt-financed. And it fails to tackle the issue of unnecessary permitting delays, which are one of the most significant impediments to improving our infrastructure.”
Despite all of Trump’s bluster about an infrastructure bill, this appears to be one piece of legislation he has no intention of signing — not that he will ever be forced to make the choice.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday morning that the Senate wouldn’t be taking up the measure.
“Naturally, this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate,” McConnell said. “It will just join the list of absurd House proposals that were only drawn up to show fealty to the radical left.”