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Infrastructure bill sees momentum but could still face hurdles ahead

The long-awaited Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was officially introduced in the Senate Sunday night. The $1.2 trillion bill — over 2,700 pages long — is the product of weeks of negotiations among a bipartisan group of 10 senators and the White House. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest and follow the money.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Our other lead tonight: The long-awaited infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was officially introduced in the Senate last night.

    The roughly $1 trillion bill over 2, 700 pages' long is the product of weeks of negotiations among a bipartisan group of 10 senators and the White House.

    Lisa Desjardins joins me now to take us through it.

    So, Lisa, a little light reading for you over the last less than 24 hours.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tell us — after all these weeks of working on this, give us a sense of what is in this piece of legislation.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're right, Judy.

    We are still digesting this 2, 700-page, historically large infrastructure bill. But I want to go through some highlights of what I have seen in it, what we know is in it.

    First of all, how large is it? We don't have a final number, but we're talking about $1 trillion. That includes new funding that's been added and also expected funding that was already probably going to be in the pipeline for infrastructure anyway.

    Let's talk about some specific, $65 billion for broadband, $66 billion for railways. That is a huge investment, particularly in Amtrak, as well as freight. But one of the biggest chunks is $343 billion. That's all the money, new and expected, for roads and bridges. And there's a reason for that.

    If you look at our roads and bridges in this country, for roads, the American Society of Civil Engineers says 43 percent of our roads in this country are in poor and bad condition. And this is really just a down payment. Bridges, 42 percent of those are 50 years old or more.

    And it's not these guys, though. I noticed a provision in here that will be big news in Alaska, where they have a ferry system that is depended on by some 3,000 miles' worth of people in that state. There it is, and is struggling for funds. There's a billion dollars that could help the Alaska ferry system.

    All in all, senators came to the floor today, many of them to say this is historic, one of them, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL):

    This plan will help us protect America's infrastructure, our economy, and American families from 21st century threats of climate change, extreme weather and cyberattacks.

    It is the largest investment in resilience of physical and natural systems in American history. With this plan, we can create thousands of good-paying, family-supporting jobs. And the majority of these jobs may not require a college degree.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa….

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I think we are going to be spending time for the rest of this week figuring out what's in it.

    Sorry, Judy, go ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    No, my mistake for interrupting you.

    But we heard Senator Durbin mention something you don't traditionally hear connected to infrastructure, and that's climate change. Tell us about what that means, what that involves.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We will spend more time on this also.

    But, briefly, there is $7.5 billion in here for electric charging stations, as well as other alternative fuel charging stations. A lot in here for low emissions, buses, ferries.

    But some of those — and some of the people in the environmental and climate change movement especially say that this is a positive, but, for them, it falls far short. They think some of these things could have gone farther. They're waiting for that next bill, the big reconciliation bill the Democrats want, to do more on climate change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, tell us about the opposition to this.

    We know that some senators are not pleased with it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    And the number one problem with it for those who have problems is how it's paid for. Again, we're still learning exactly what they did here. But I want to run down a few of the ways that our lawmakers are paying for this very large, historic bill.

    One, they got creative. There's more than $20 billion that they say will come from new taxes, new rules on cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, that industry not happy about that. There's also $87 billion that they estimate will come from sale of the 5G bandwidth, sometimes called the spectrum, for cell phones.

    But the biggest pay-fors, as we call them on the Hill here, come from unspent relief money either for the unemployed that was unused by states or in general money for other COVID relief programs. There, you see over $200 billion from unspent COVID relief.

    And some senators say that's a problem. They don't think that money should be used for infrastructure. They think it shouldn't be used at all.

    Here's Republican Mike Lee of Utah speaking last night.

  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT):

    If we appropriated more money for COVID than we should have, than we needed to, shouldn't we also consider, I don't know, giving it back to the American people or paying down the debt?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And I think we're going to hear more of those calls as we continue for the rest of the year. How much of a problem will it be for this bill? I don't know.

    Right now, the bill does seem to have 60 to 70 votes in the Senate. And it needs 60. So it's on a pretty secure path at the moment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, spell that out for us. What does it look like in the coming days where this bill goes?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I call these hard-won bills rainbows when they appear. I have never seen a rainbow take so long to emerge, as this one did over the last week.

    And we're going to have another long week, as there are amendments. This is an open process, which means senators can try and change the bill. We don't know if any major changes are likely. But after that process this week and next week, we expect the Senate to pass this bill. Then it goes to the House, where it actually could face us another set of rumble strips on its way to passage.

    I believe — it seems that it is likely to pass in some form, but it's possible that, again, the two chambers disagree, and it could take many more weeks to finish. There's a lot of momentum, but there's a lot of drama still ahead on this bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it's also August, when Congress often likes to go home.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm thinking rumble strips and rainbows.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

    (LAUGHTER)

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