President Joe Biden (seated) talks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA., (second from right) as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, right, and Vice President Kamala Harris, left, look on after signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on the South Lawn at the White House on Nov. 15, 2021. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill during a ceremony at the White House packed with some 800 supporters, heralding what he said was a “truly consequential” spending bill that will improve Americans’ day-to-day lives.
But Democrats also emphasized that there is more to come — a $1.85 trillion social spending measure that still faces a close final vote in the U.S. House and major changes in the evenly divided Senate, where passage will have to come without GOP support.
Biden said the infrastructure legislation — backed by nearly all congressional Democrats, as well as 19 Senate Republicans and 13 House Republicans — is a signal that polarized public officials in Washington can come together to create jobs and solve long-lingering problems.
“My message to the American people is: America is moving again. And your life is going to change for the better,” Biden said during the South Lawn ceremony attended by federal and state legislators, governors, mayors, labor leaders, business leaders, and other supporters.
The signing marked a significant victory for the president’s economic agenda.
But the tougher step still looms, as Democrats attempt to rally their narrow majorities to pass the accompanying bill that would spend trillions more on new programs to expand access to child care and preschool and combat climate change.
Two senators critical to reaching agreement on the infrastructure plan, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, joined Biden on stage for the bill signing and spoke ahead of the president’s remarks.
“Our legislation represents the substantive policy changes that some have said are no longer possible in today’s Senate,” Sinema said. “How many times have we heard that important policy can only happen on a party line? Our legislation proves the opposite.”
Portman also lauded the bipartisan work involved in approving the infrastructure measure, saying the deal became possible after the group of lawmakers involved in negotiations agreed to shrink the package down to physical infrastructure — and separate out Biden’s proposals for new social and climate-change programs.
“Mr. President … you and I will disagree on the tax and spending (provisions) in the other priority you have, the reconciliation bill, but I think we can both agree that this infrastructure investment shouldn’t be a one-time bipartisan accomplishment,” said Portman, who is retiring at the end of his term next year.
“This should be the beginning of a renewed effort to work together on big issues facing this country,” Portman added.
In his remarks before signing the bill, Biden praised Portman as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who voted for the bill but did not attend Monday’s ceremony.
The new law, Biden said, is “proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results.”
Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne, D-3rd District, attended the ceremony. “I was proud to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle today to see this landmark bill signed into law – and look forward to working with state and local partners to see the billions of dollars included in this bill for Iowa implemented as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Axne said in a statement.
Our bipartisan infrastructure bill is now law!
Proud to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle as @POTUS signed this landmark measure.
— Rep. Cindy Axne (@RepCindyAxne) November 15, 2021
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was the only other member of the Iowa delegation to vote for the bill.
Provisions of the new law include $110 billion to repair and rebuild roads and bridges; $90 billion for public transit; and $66 billion for passenger rail improvements.
Airports and ports also will see an infusion of federal funding, as will the country’s electric grid.
Billions more will pay for electric vehicle charging stations and the purchase of buses and ferries that run on electricity.
Another $65 billion will go toward expanding access to broadband internet access across the country, a provision touted during the signing ceremony by Donneta Williams, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1025 at a Wilmington, N.C., plant producing optical fiber needed for broadband upgrades.
“To paraphrase one of my favorite former vice presidents, it’s a big effing deal,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Before heading to the White House, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who was among the 10 senators who wrote the bill, told reporters on a press call that the signing was the culmination of several months of negotiation.
“This is one of the best days I’ve had in Washington, D.C.,” Tester told reporters. “This is something that, for six months we met and we argued and we fought and we worked and in the end we got something that is the biggest non-emergency investment in infrastructure in our nation’s history.”
The legislation drew some bipartisan support in both chambers. But the 13 House Republicans who joined Democrats in support of the bill have faced backlash for that vote from constituents and some of their colleagues.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted that they were “traitors,” and posted their office phone numbers.
GOP opponents of the measure have decried it as part of a “spending spree” by Democrats.
“Tennesseans want real infrastructure investment, not frivolous left-wing programs that add to our nation’s debt,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., fumed in a press release ahead of the bill signing, slamming it as the “gateway” to the human infrastructure bill Democrats are still seeking to pass.
A half-dozen progressive House Democrats also opposed the physical infrastructure bill.
Those “no” votes included Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri, who wanted the $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate bill, known as “Build Back Better,” to be voted on at the same time as the infrastructure bill.
House Democrats have voted to set the terms of debate over the social reform package, and have aimed to hold a final vote as soon as this week.
“This is a great accomplishment, and there’s more to come,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the White House.
Environmental advocacy groups and their allies in the Congressional Progressive Caucus also have sought to present the infrastructure bill and the $1.85 trillion social spending plan as a package deal.
“This is scene one of a two-act play,” Manish Bapna, the president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It sets the stage for Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act. That’s the centerpiece of President Biden’s strategy to drive equitable recovery with climate action in a moment the country urgently needs both.”
Asked about the social spending and climate bill, Tester stressed that it and the physical infrastructure bill are separate measures.
His priorities in the larger spending plan include making child care more accessible and affordable, providing federal housing funding and addressing climate change, he added.
During Monday’s ceremony, Vice President Kamala Harris also framed the two infrastructure bills as a set that is to be completed.
“This legislation, as significant as it is, as historic as it is, is part one of two,” Harris said. “Congress must also pass the Build Back Better Act.”
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