What Will It Take For Congress To Pass Biden's Infrastructure Plan?

Apr 7, 2021
Originally published on April 7, 2021 8:30 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What will it take for Congress to pass President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan? Lawmakers are beginning to take a deeper look at the package to upgrade the nation's roads, bridges and railways. But it goes beyond physical infrastructure. The bill also includes hundreds of billions of dollars for other proposals, like giving access to care for elderly people and people with disabilities. Republicans say the plan is too broad, and they don't like the proposed corporate tax hikes. Meanwhile, a few Democrats are voicing concerns, too, and that could be a problem since there's a good chance this may need to pass along party lines. This means any Senate Democrat has the clout to force big changes.

Joining us now, NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So the White House needs to convince two constituencies - right? - Congress and the American public. How are they pitching it?

DETROW: Yeah, we're expecting to hear the president speak about this again today. There's been a really aggressive push already over the past week from the entire Cabinet. Vice President Harris has been on the road across the country. Cabinet secretaries have been doing a ton of interviews. They're all making the case the U.S. is just decades behind in spending on physical infrastructure, but also things like Internet access and broadband and energy spending, and this is an effort to catch up with what's been neglected.

MARTIN: So what sort of timeline are we looking at for this plan to move on Capitol Hill?

DETROW: This is probably not going to be as fast as the COVID relief plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been saying she would like to pass it through the House by early July, so there is plenty of time for lawmakers to have input. No one is definitively saying it out loud yet, but most leaders are hinting that this would likely be done through that reconciliation process, the complicated process that allows a party-line Senate vote instead of needing 60 lawmakers, which would mean 10 Republicans, to be on board with anything going forward.

MARTIN: OK, so even a party-line vote would require 50 Democrats on the same page. Are they - are there enough Democrats on the same page?

DETROW: At the moment, there might not be. We've said this a lot; we'll say it again - a 50-50 Senate gives every single Democrat a lot of clout. We did not see much pushback on the COVID relief bill, but this plan looks a bit different. Some Democrats want the bill to eliminate caps on deductions for state and local taxes, something that went away a few years ago with the Republican tax plan. Others are opposing the idea of raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin has already come out against that. He wants it to be at 25%. He knows he has power here. Here's Manchin speaking on West Virginia's "Talkline" on Metro News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE MANCHIN: If I don't vote to get on it, it's not going anywhere. So we're going to have some leverage here, and it's more than just me.

DETROW: And at the same time, you have progressives in the House especially saying that this bill is too small, even though it's $2 trillion. This is all at the early stage. Committees have barely started their work writing this legislation. Folks at the White House say there's room for changes. Expect a lot of the details to shift over the coming months.

MARTIN: So focusing in on some of the Republican criticism, I mean, Senate Majority - Senate Minority Leader, rather, Mitch McConnell has called it a liberal wish list that exceeds the definition of infrastructure. How's the White House responding to that?

DETROW: A couple arguments. President Biden has made the case that a lot of these nonroad and bridge items have been in recent Republican infrastructure bills - things like job training, broadband - certainly not at that $2 trillion level, but a lot of this stuff has been in there. And when it comes to a lot of the research items, the climate items, energy items, Biden is increasingly making a case, this is about national security as well - saying, China is lapping the U.S. on spending and research, and the U.S. needs to catch up.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.