Ending months of delay, the bipartisan infrastructure bill cleared the House Friday night by a vote of 228 to 206, with 13 Republicans voting in favor of the $550 million infrastructure investment. For agriculture, it includes funding for ports and waterways, repairing roads and bridges and rural broadband.
While speaking on passage early Saturday morning, President Joe Biden says it is "finally infrastructure week" and a "monumental step forward as a nation."
Biden spent much of his summer negotiating with senators from both sides of the aisle to broker the deal that cleared the Senate in August by a vote of 69-30, however, it then stalled in the House while Democrat leaders tried to negotiate its “human infrastructure” package now referred to as the Build Back Better Act. In action Friday, the House members approved a rule allowing for future debate of that bill, but did not have the votes to pass the two bills together.
“A comprehensive transportation infrastructure bill, while popular, has long been elusive. By sending the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to the president’s desk, Congress has seized an exceptional opportunity to boost the competitiveness of American agriculture,” says National Grain and Feed Association President and CEO Mike Seyfert.
The bipartisan legislation would increase infrastructure spending by $550 billion over five years, including an additional $110 billion in U.S. roads and bridges with $40 billion specified for bridge repair, replacement, and rehabilitation; $65 billion for broadband with $2 billion specified for rural areas and approximately $17 billion for ports and waterways.
According to a fact sheet from the White House more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds – a particular problem in rural communities throughout the country. And, according to the latest OECD data, among 35 countries studied, the United States has the second highest broadband costs. The legislation will also help lower prices for internet service and help close the digital divide, so that more Americans can afford internet access.
“A quarter of America’s farm families have no high-speed internet access while working to meet the needs of a growing world. Investments in physical infrastructure like broadband will be critical to bridging the digital divide,” says Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president.
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The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal makes the single largest investment in repairing and reconstructing the nation’s bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system. It will rebuild the most economically significant bridges in the country as well as 10,000 targeted smaller bridges, the White House adds.
For the nation’s inland waterways system, a historic $2.5 billion of 100% federal funding is provided for construction and major rehabilitation inland waterways projects. Further, Capital Investment Strategy navigation projects will be given priority. When $2.5 billion is coupled with annual appropriations over the next five years, two-thirds of the CIS portfolio could potentially be funded to completion.
The Waterways Council Inc. says this provides a “once-in-a generation opportunity to modernize the nation’s inland waterways transportation system to provide energy security, increase global competitiveness and further improve our environmental footprint.”
Project-specific funding will be allocated in a detailed spend plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chief of Engineers and must be submitted to the House and Senate not later than 60 days after enactment. Starting not later than 120 days after enactment of the bill, the chief of engineers shall provide a monthly report to the committees on appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate, detailing the allocation and obligation of funds, and new construction projects selected to be initiated.
WCI says in other good news, the Corps’ Operations and Maintenance account for all business line items within its Civil Works mission will receive $4 billion in the infrastructure bill. Inland waterways projects and dredging are eligible to compete for funding to be allocated in a Corps spend plan.
The legislation will invest $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electrical vehicle chargers in the United States. It also invests over $50 billion to protect against droughts, heat, floods and wildfires, in addition to a major investment in weatherization.
The bill also includes a number of provisions designed to boost the resiliency of the agricultural supply chain, including $10 billion in grants to upgrade and strengthen the electric grid, an apprenticeship pilot program to address the nationwide truck driver shortage, as well as authorizing further investments in cybersecurity.
The bill extends the Secure Rural Schools program through 2023. The Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which was first introduced in 2000, supports public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services, and other essential county services for more than 775 counties around the country. Rural counties that contain tax-exempt public lands have historically relied on a share of timber receipts from these lands to fund education and county services. As timber harvest revenues have fallen, SRS helps to bridge the funding gap for rural counties across the country.
“Good things can indeed come to those who wait, and passage of this long-considered bill is a win for everyone in our country,” says Kevin Scott, soybean farmer from Valley Springs, South Dakota, and American Soybean Association president. “Infrastructure is critical to the long-term success of not only the ag industry, but also the general health of American commerce and global competitiveness. We are very appreciative that our congressional leaders stayed the course on this important package that will bolster the U.S. economy, and which encompasses so many priorities for soy, ranging from surface transportation and waterways funding to investments in rural broadband and new opportunities for soy-based products.”
Many members in the House had wanted passage of the infrastructure bill in the House to go in tandem with the Build Back Better – “human infrastructure” – bill. That did not happen, although the House did approve rules for consideration of the bill as the chamber waits for a score of the costs of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office. The vote sets up for debate on that part of Biden’s agenda the week of November 15.
"Let me be clear," Biden says. "We will pass this in the House and in the Senate" he says of the Build Back Better Act.