What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What exactly is Congress doing on infrastructure?

A new bipartisan Senate agreement on infrastructure has fueled debate among lawmakers around what the best avenue is to getting a deal. While Republicans consider a smaller scope bill, some Democrats nervous about losing key priorities are hoping to go it alone without Republican support. Lisa Desjardins explains how a debate over transportation, water, climate change and child care is in play.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A trillion-dollar bipartisan Senate infrastructure plan picked up momentum today, after more senators signed onto it. Now 20 senators, 10 from each party, back the outline, doubling the number of senators who support it from just yesterday.

    Lisa Desjardins explains what's at stake and the potential potholes, as the negotiations continue.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is an enormous and enormously important discussion.

    But, first, let's just get our hands around what exactly lawmakers are talking about. Simple version? Four big things are on the table here.

    One, classic infrastructure, you know, fixing roads, bridges, rails, public buses, with one idea added, broadband Internet expansion. Second, clean water. That includes work to replace lead pipes. Third, another big one, climate change and energy.

    That means things like manufacturing. Democrats want tax credits to lower carbon output, and things like a better, greener power grid. One headline item? Electric vehicles. President Biden wants rebates to encourage buying electric cars, and funding to build more charging stations. Some Democrats say that is a must-have.

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR):

    When the ship sails on infrastructure, energy investments cannot be left on the docks. If there is no climate, there is no deal.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Finally, one other big category, structures around work and family, like childcare. Again, Democrats feel strongly.

  • Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI):

    Just ask a working mom if childcare is a part of her family's infrastructure.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Specifically, Democrats want to build more childcare centers, enable preschool for every child starting at 3 years old, and mandate paid family leave.

    In addition, President Biden wants the government to ensure everyone can get two years of community college.

    So those are the four areas in play right now, transportation, water, climate, family care. But there is a sharp divide over which of those should be addressed now. And that's affecting how all of this works.

    The classic infrastructure part, roads, bridges, broadband, that's where the parties agree the most. And along with electric vehicle charging stations, that's what is in the bipartisan Senate plan out this week.

    Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell sounded hopeful about it yesterday.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

    I would love to see us get an outcome on infrastructure. It's important. The country needs it. We have history of doing infrastructure on bipartisan basis.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But there is a problem for Democrats. It's not clear how much funding for clean water is included, and it leaves out most of the climate ideas and all of the childcare plans.

    So, Democrats are hedging their bets. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer:

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

    Discussions about infrastructure, both physical and human, are proceeding along two tracks.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    He means this. As that smaller bipartisan bill bounces around, Democrats are clearing a path for all of the rest to become a separate, more partisan bill. They'd try to pass it using something called reconciliation that needs just 50 Senate votes.

    But because of hesitant moderates like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, that bigger package doesn't have 50 votes yet. On the other hand, progressive Democrats, like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, say it's all or nothing. They need that larger bill to be worked out before they'd support the first bipartisan one.

    There are other issues, too like how to pay for all of this. But, overall, here's where we are. It was a positive week for the bipartisan deal for infrastructure. But it has a tricky road ahead, especially because Democrats want much more.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

Listen to this Segment