Congress passed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill on Friday after months of negotiations and concessions between moderate and progressive Democrats.
The Build Back Better agenda includes two bills: an infrastructure bill that has the support of both Republicans and Democrats and a reconciliation bill that only Democrats support. The infrastructure bill has provisions for items such as roads, bridges and construction, whereas the reconciliation bill has items related to education, health care and climate spending.
“Infrastructure is one of the last bastions of truly bipartisan political overlap because it provides something that any political ideology can get behind,” Drake political science professor Matthew Record said. “It is a massive return on long term investment. If you’re going to spend a single dollar in a society, spending it on long term infrastructure is almost always one of the best ways to spend that money.”
The infrastructure bill has more support and includes more traditional spending compared to the reconciliation bill, which has more items related to the Democrats’ legislative agenda.
“Democrats like it because it puts people to work. It increases economic opportunities to people who would normally have them,” Record said. “Republicans like it because it increases economic growth overall. And almost any politician likes something that’s there for decades because you can put your name on it [and] pat yourself on the back for having had a long-lasting impact on society.”
Cuts to the reconciliation bill come with a decreased impact on the average American citizen or Drake student. Free community college, climate legislation and major health care provisions have all been nixed from the reconciliation bill in the negotiation process, according to Record.
“I think it has been held out to the point that a Drake student probably wouldn’t notice [the package] one way or the other … We’re talking about trillions of dollars, but we’re talking about trillions of dollars being spent over 10 years,” Record said. “We’re talking about, relative to the U.S. economy, increases of spending of single digit percentage points. I think that as Drake students kind of transition into their postgraduate life, and we’re talking about families and things like that, I think things like the childcare subsidy and maternity leave and paternity leave would have especially benefited them a lot.”
The bipartisan infrastructure bill comes with a price tag of $1.2 trillion, and the reconciliation bill is $1.75 trillion, down significantly from its original $3.5 trillion amount. For the Drake Democrats, this is not enough.
“Initially when the bill was being proposed, it was much more comprehensive in that infrastructure was defining various things such as rail infrastructure, internet infrastructure, climate change, issues like that,” said Kody Craddick, president of the Drake Democrats. “I think we would like it to be more funding in that realm.”
For the Drake College Republicans, this is too much government spending.
“We already have a problem with this administration spending too much and spending money that the American government does not have. [What] concerns me and a lot of other Republicans on this campus is the price tag,” said Matt Deike, executive director of the Drake College Republicans. “We’re going to have to live with that debt and we’re going to have to pay that back. And looking at a responsible way to pay for infrastructure is a major concern that I would like to see addressed with this bill.”
Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona agree with Republicans that the reconciliation package’s cost is too high, so they did not commit to vote for the reconciliation bill until the overall price tag was lowered. Since the Senate has an exact 50-50 split, Democrats cannot pass the reconciliation bill without these senators’ support. Vice President Kamala Harris would break the tie in such a split, giving Democrats the ability to pass the legislation without any Republican votes.
Reconciliation refers to a legislative process that allows a party to pass a bill with only a bare majority, or 50% support under certain circumstances. Record said that Democrats split their legislative priorities into two separate bills because of the lack of Republican support for the programs in the reconciliation bill.
“Once a year, you can pass [budgetary] changes through the Congress that don’t require a supermajority to get past the filibuster,” Record said. “That’s what the Democrats are trying to do right now. Basically, they’re trying to craft a revenue neutral version of an infrastructure bill by raising taxes on the rich and putting new spending programs into place in order to be able to pass with a bare majority of senators rather than a supermajority of senators.”