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Understanding the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the fight for reconciliation

In Washington, President Joe Biden's push for a sweeping infrastructure bill took a giant step forward Thursday after months of arduous negotiations on the president's top legislative priority. After much back-and-forth with members of Congress, Biden announced bipartisan agreement on a $953 billion plan. Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss the agreement.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We have two lead stories tonight, the tragic collapse of a residential building in Surfside, Florida, next to Miami Beach, has rescue workers scrambling to find at least 99 unaccounted-for people in the rubble, while, here in Washington, President Biden's push for a sweeping infrastructure bill has taken a giant step forward today.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins with that story.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    At the White House, a rare presidential appearance in the driveway to announce a big bipartisan deal.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: We had a really good meeting. And to answer your direct question, we have a deal.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The agreement came after President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators settled on a framework for an infrastructure bill, in a compromise that both sides are praising.

  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH):

    And I'm pleased to see today we were able to come together on a core infrastructure package — this is not non-infrastructure items — without new taxes, and with the commitment from Republicans and Democrats alike that we're going to get this across the finish line.

  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ):

    No one got everything they wanted in this package. We all gave some to get some, because what we did was put first the needs of our country.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The total price tag of the package is $1.2 trillion over eight years. Over five years, it's $973 billion. Overall, there's $579 billion in new spending. As Republicans wanted, it focuses more on traditional items, like roads, bridges, broadband, and the power grid, among other areas.

    So, the scope of this deal is much narrower than President Biden's initial $2.2 trillion proposal. But President Biden insists Democrats will pass a separate deal with their infrastructure priorities aimed at families and communities.

  • President Joe Biden:

    But if only one comes to me, I'm not — if this is the only thing that comes to me, I'm not signing it. It's in tandem.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The framework does not include money for so-called human infrastructure that many Democrats want, from childcare to climate change to anti-poverty efforts.

    Progressives, led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, are demanding that those items be addressed simultaneously in a separate bill. It would advance through a budget process known as reconciliation that requires only a simple majority in the 50/50 Senate.

    Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT):

    I think it is way too small, paltry, pitiful. And I will insist on a second package that not only addresses more roads and bridges and tangible assets, but also human infrastructure.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was equally blunt.

  • Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA):

    There ain't going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Late today on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was encouraged by the day's progress, but he criticized Democrats and President Biden for insisting that the bipartisan deal be passed along with a Democrat-backed reconciliation bill.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

    Less than two hours after publicly commending our colleagues and actually endorsing the bipartisan agreement, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But a real assessment of whether it can get the 60 votes to pass is unlikely until after the Senate returns from a two-week recess that begins tomorrow.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins us now from the White House, along with Lisa Desjardins at the Capitol.

    And, Lisa, to you first.

    We know senators who were part of have spent many weeks trying to come up with this deal. Give us some of the details of what exactly is in here.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, this is a huge moment.

    Now, this bill does have a long road ahead. This hasn't crossed the finish line yet. But this is a very big victory for bipartisanship in an age of with divide. And, also, this would be, if it goes through, the largest single transportation bill in American history.

    So let's talk about what's in it really quickly. A lot. At the top, some of the biggest categories, roads and bridges, over $100 billion for those, another $100 billion-plus for rails and public transportation.

    Now, there is also in this bill a number of categories on climate. And it depends on how you add up the math, But it's between $15 billion and $60 billion. That's everything from electric vehicle charging stations to mitigations for our coastlines, dealing with ecosystems, addressing the effects already of climate change.

    And then, finally, one thing I want to highlight, $55 billion for clean water and pipes. That's for things like changing out lead pipes that are still in so many parts of America.

    Judy, I could go on and on. This bill has a lot of money for the power grid, for airports, for our ports at sea, for ferries, for broadband. It is a massive bill.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, you — as you and others are pointing out, it is not as much as the president originally wanted. But there's still a lot of money in here. How are they going to pay for it?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This was the toughest part of reaching this point in the deal.

    And I have to tell you, we just got the official release from senators laying out how they pay for it. Judy, there are no dollar figures next to the categories. Fortunately, I was able to get a copy of what the dollar figures were from one of the senator — from a senator who saw that.

    And some of the biggest pay-fors are things like taking unspent COVID money and using that, also changing how the IRS operates, helping boost the IRS, so it could collect more taxes, enforce, basically, the law on tax cheats.

    I think overall, Lisa Murkowski put it well. It's a smorgasbord of pay-fors. There are no tax increases in this. This is what Republicans wanted. But when you do that, that means that there are a lot of things in here that are in the gray area, kind of questionable math that I think we will be looking at for a long time to come.

    I want to just give a sense quickly of the scope of this bill. This is really what brought everybody together. If you look at the most recent large transportation bills, the last three, for example that you see, look at the one today. It is almost twice as much as the biggest bills previous to this.

    How did this come together? One last anecdote. I'm told by senators in the room, Judy, that, yesterday, things were so tense, this almost fell completely apart. Senator Jon Tester of Montana, went in the room, put his hands down and said, "Guys, we have to get this big boy done."

    And then everyone sort of took a breath and did find a way to get it across this initial finish line.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting about Senator Tester's role, Senator Tester of Montana.

    So, Yamiche, we heard a lot from President Biden on the campaign trail when he was running for president. He wanted infrastructure passed. Tell us more about his role in getting to where we are today and where this goes from here.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, this bipartisan infrastructure bill, this huge bill, is like President Biden catching his white whale.

    He had said over and over again on the campaign trail that he was going to be for bipartisanship, that he was going to be working across the aisle. And now you have this mood here at the White House today of real jubilance, of feeling like here is President Biden proving people wrong.

    And that's why we saw the president do a couple rare things today. Just a few feet away from me is the White House driveway. We never see the president come up to the microphones that are usually stationed there.

    But, this time, the president swaggered up with Republicans and Democratic senators and announced that there was a deal. You could see the happiness in his face. And then, of course, he held that impromptu press conference, explaining how they got to this deal, explaining all of the different things that were in it.

    Now, I have been talking to White House sources, and they underscore that this bill, they think, is transformational. And to put it into even more context here, in 1956, under President Eisenhower, the Interstate Highway System was constructed. And, in today's dollars, that would be over $500 billion.

    This bill tops that. So that is what the White House is wanting to underscore here today. And when it comes to the president's role, he was very, very engaged.

    The president, before he left for Europe for NATO and the G7, he underscored that he wanted to get a deal done. When I came back, I talked to White House officials immediately, and they said that their prospect was better than when the president left.

    And that tells you that the White House was on Capitol Hill doing this work, ironing out these numbers in the details.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Yamiche, is there an early sense there at the White House of what this could mean for the rest of the president's agenda?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, that is the big question. And it's the question that I put to the president today when he held that impromptu press conference at the White House in the East Room.

    And I told — I asked the president, what does this mean for voting rights or for police reform? What have you learned in working with Republicans that informs the way forward? And he told me that this really is about the idea that he wants to try to push forward with all of his different agenda items.

    But he also said that he was focused in some ways really on voting rights. He said — he made some news today, saying that he's going to be touring the country on voting rights.

    When I talk to White House officials, though, they say caution when it comes to whether or not other bipartisanship will come through this. But when — even when you look at this deal, we have to remind people that the timing here is still in flux. There was some talk of it being in September or possibly in the fall.

    So there's a real question about how the president is going to get Democrats on that reconciliation bill. So, even as the president is thinking about what's next, we have to underscore that Democrats still have some work to do on really getting this two-track system all the way through.

    But bipartisanship lives today, Judy. And that is something that is rare to say here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A head-turning day at the White House.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you both.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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