Senate votes to advance drastically reduced bipartisan infrastructure plan with dubious funding

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Republicans got their way on cutting transit funding. It took a big hit, coming from $48 billion in the original framework agreement to $39 billion. One of the biggest cuts comes to clean drinking water initiatives, which were halved from $110 billion to $55 billion. Another big cut comes to Biden’s original $20 billion plan to “reconnect” communities of color that were bulldozed, paved under, and cut into parts by previous programs. It is now getting $1 billion. They stuck to the previously agreed-to $66 billion for freight and passenger rail; the $65 billion for broadband; and $25 billion for airports.

What was left entirely out of Biden’s original $2.6 trillion American Jobs Plan includes: $387 billion in public housing, and investing in modernizing public buildings including schools, hospitals, day care centers and federal buildings; $566 billion in innovation funding for research and development on climate change and energy, U.S.-based manufacturing, and research grants to historically Black colleges and universities; $363 billion in clean energy tax credits. Biden’s $400 billion proposal to expand home- and community-based care had originally been included in the jobs plan and has been excluded. It is supposed to be included in the second-track bill, the now-$3.5 trillion budget reconciliation that Democrats can pass on their own.

How they’re paying for it is a mixture of stealing from COVID-19 relief and vaporware. They’ve pegged $205 billion in so far unspent COVID money, which hopefully won’t be necessary in the event all the unvaccinated people trigger yet another deadly variant that doesn’t respond to the current vaccines. But we don’t know for sure that will happen, so what the hell. It also takes about $53 billion that was earmarked for emergency unemployment insurance for the states. Many states have refused to keep paying the federal supplement, so that’s where that money is coming from. That’s the actual money.

Other more or less concrete funding sources agreed to include: auctioning of 5G spectrum for $87 billion; restarting a tax on chemical manufacturers that had expired nearly thirty years ago for $13 billion; and selling $6 billion worth of oil from the strategic reserve.

The other funding sources are less real than, say, taxing rich people and corporations would be. They’ll postpone a Medicare rule that would give rebates from drug manufacturers to beneficiaries, instead of who gets them now—insurers and pharmacy benefit managers. That’s about $49 billion. They have agreed that the IRS can strengthen enforcement on cryptocurrencies, though not on rich people and corporations, and decided that will raise $28 billion. Then there’s the gimmick of dynamic scoring, in which they’ve determined that economic growth will kick in $56 billion.

Some of what was left out of this package could go into the budget reconciliation bill Democrats are separately planning. “My goal remains to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution during this work period. Both,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. “It might take some long nights. It might eat into our weekends. But we are going to get the job done and we are on track.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders grudgingly voted to advance this measure, and said that the budget package could be ready as soon as next week. He reiterated that there will have to be both the bipartisan bill and the budget reconciliation package in order to get this done. “At the end of the day, two pieces of legislation, the bipartisan bill and the [budget] bill, have got to pass the House and Senate,” he said. “It is my absolute conviction that you’re not going to have a bipartisan bill unless you have a [budget] bill of $3.5 trillion.”

How on track they remain is going to depend a lot on Republicans and Mitch McConnell. He is demanding a “robust, bipartisan floor process” on the bill, which means lots and lots of amendments for Republicans that can eat up days of legislative time. He also trashed the proposed budget reconciliation bill—”the multi-trillion-dollar reckless taxing and spending spree that Democrats hope to ram through on a party-line vote later this year”—in a further effort to try to poison it with his favorite Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.

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