The Senate’s infrastructure gamble, explained

“Senate Democrats are navigating a tricky balancing act: attempting to simultaneously advance both a $600 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget resolution full of Democratic priorities that’s only expected to garner partisan support.

This plan, which has colloquially been referred to as the “two-track strategy,” is intended to demonstrate that lawmakers can actually work across party lines to get something done on “hard” infrastructure, like roads and airports, and that Democrats can also deliver on “human” infrastructure that’s a party priority but that Republicans won’t support, like funding for long-term caregiving and paid leave.

It is a somewhat circuitous approach to approving infrastructure legislation, driven by the focus that moderate Democrats, and President Joe Biden, have put on bipartisanship — as well as their refusal to alter the filibuster.”

Good internet service is still a luxury in the US

“Home broadband is more important than ever. It’s also seemingly a luxury good.

Just over half of Americans making less than $30,000 a year have home broadband, a service that’s increasingly important for numerous aspects of life, from school to work to socializing. A much higher 92 percent of households bringing in $75,000 or more per year have home broadband, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.”

“That’s due to the high cost of internet in the United States — about $60 a month — which is more than many Americans can afford. Nearly half of those without broadband don’t have it because they say it’s too expensive, according to the survey. Broadband in the US is more expensive than in many other developed nations.

The crux of the issue is that the US is very large and building out internet infrastructure is expensive, so internet companies are more likely to do so in areas where there are lots of paying customers: wealthier and populous areas. Since internet companies are not regulated like utilities, they have little economic incentive to build out internet to isolated or poorer areas, where there are fewer customers or at least fewer customers who can afford it. The result is a digital divide in which many poorer and more rural Americans lack access to broadband internet.”

“In the meantime, about half of those without broadband say they can do everything they need to do online with their smartphone.”

“People can do plenty of things perfectly fine on a smartphone, but there is an upper limit (try writing and sending a cover letter, toggling through different tabs and apps for work, or even being able to get the same options on your bank’s mobile website as its regular website).

“In most cases, it’s easier to use a bigger screen with a connected computer than it is to use a smartphone. If you don’t have [a computer with broadband], you’re not really plugged into the modern economy,” Rainie said, pointing to how important having a computer with broadband is for things like applying for a job. “The data shows you’re not capable of being the kind of social, political, and economic actor that people who have broadband are able to be,” he added.”

How a major oil pipeline got held for ransom

“the company was likely breached through a leaked password to an old account that had access to the virtual private network (VPN) used to remotely access the company’s servers. The account reportedly didn’t have multifactor authentication, so the hackers only needed to know the username and the password to gain access to the largest petroleum pipeline in the country.”

How Nancy Pelosi hopes to back Joe Manchin into a corner

“In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would link the two bills together, to prevent the party’s left from losing heart. “There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate,” Pelosi said Thursday.

This is an attempt to put the moderate Democrats in a box. It’s a promise from Pelosi to hold their cherished bipartisan deal hostage unless they fall in line with Biden’s reconciliation plan. It’s not clear whether this was necessary, since Manchin had already started speaking positively about the reconciliation effort. It also may be a bluff — if the reconciliation effort does fall apart, would Pelosi and House Democrats really choose doing nothing over settling for whatever got through the Senate? But Democrats hope the moderates will simply fall in line, so they don’t have to find out.”

Biden’s infrastructure deal proves bipartisanship can’t deliver

“So far, Democrats and Republicans have made some headway on the bipartisan deal. They have agreed to a very vague framework that includes funding for roads and bridges, public transit, passenger and freight rail, electric vehicle infrastructure, clean drinking water, and broadband internet, among a few other areas. The agreement goes into almost no detail beyond those broad categories — with lawmakers now working to get more specific as they transform that framework into actual legislation.

Where both sides haven’t reached any agreement yet is how all of this will be paid for. Democrats want to pay for it largely by undoing parts of former President Donald Trump’s tax law, while Republicans suggested raising the gas tax and electric vehicle charging fees. With both sides rejecting each other’s ideas, they instead put out a list of potential revenue sources, ranging from stronger enforcement of current tax laws to spending caps to public-private partnerships. But the sides haven’t reached any concrete agreements here, and all of these ideas may not even be enough to fund the full bill.

Democrats have also promised to pass an additional infrastructure bill through reconciliation (to bypass the filibuster on a party-line vote). This bill would aim to fill in the other parts of Biden’s agenda left out of the bipartisan deal, including broader action on climate change and “human infrastructure” measures like an expanded child tax credit and elder care.

But the party hasn’t come to an agreement on this measure. Manchin suggested the bill could be as little as $2 trillion, while Sanders has worked on a $6 trillion proposal. There is, suffice to say, a very wide space in between.

In short: A lot is up in the air. The specific details are still being worked out. It’s not clear if any of this will happen.”

Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Confuses Costs for Benefits

“Thanks to the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which mandates that all infrastructure projects receiving federal funding pay “prevailing” (generally union) wages, organized labor has been getting a piece of the action for nearly a century. This requirement raises labor costs by as much as 22 percent, according to an analysis by Suffolk University’s Beacon Hill Institute.

The president’s insistence that he’ll sign off on a contract only if it’s with “an American company with American products all the way down the line and American workers” will raise costs even further. Existing “Buy American” provisions are a well-established driver of transportation project costs.

A 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service found that buying American steel costs around twice as much as importing it from China. Requiring road builders to use pricier domestic steel raised the cost of highway construction by about $2 billion from 2009 to 2011, back when then–Vice President Biden was overseeing the spending of stimulus dollars on infrastructure projects.

If the president’s goal were truly to “build, baby, build,” he would be making every effort to pare back regulations that raise the labor and material costs of federal infrastructure projects. Instead, Biden wants to double down on those rules.”

Americans Overpay for Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Plan

“When the transit agency that serves Washington, D.C., replaced its aging trains during the last decade, it ended up paying about $400 million more than global averages—the equivalent of an additional 150 cars.

One major reason for the higher costs, according to economists with the American Action Forum who studied the D.C. Metro’s procurement process, was a federal mandate first imposed in 1982. It requires that equipment purchased by federally subsidized transit agencies contain at least 60 percent American-made components.”

“The cost of “Buy American” provisions can be significant. An analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a pro-trade think tank, found that “Buy American” rules on the books in 2017 cost taxpayers $94 billion that year—$745 per household.”

“Overpaying for subway cars didn’t make the D.C. Metro safer or more efficient. All it did was force riders and taxpayers to spend more for less. The same will be true of Biden’s policies.”

Progressive groups are “fed up” with Biden’s infrastructure playbook

“The White House has already cut its initial $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal by more than $1 trillion, and proposed significant changes to the taxation plan to pay for the infrastructure plan.
The GOP group, meanwhile, has added less than $100 billion in new spending to its initial proposal. The latest Republican plan totals $928 billion but is proposing just $257 billion in new spending, and repurposing the rest of the infrastructure money from unused American Rescue Plan funds.”

“Still, progressive groups are telegraphing their disappointment, especially after the Senate GOP filibustered a bill for a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill — a violent event led by supporters of President Donald Trump targeting lawmakers of both parties.

“It’s hard to argue Republicans are good faith negotiations when they couldn’t pass that.” Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, told Vox of the commission bill. “Democrats are attempting to govern, and Republicans have their eyes on 2022 and 2024 and are seeking to get back into power.””