On Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed the long-awaited $1.2 billion infrastructure bill into law. The U.S. is now able to finally begin infrastructure projects that were previously put on hold, investing $550 billion over the next five years. These projects includerebuilding our roads and bridges, investing in public transit and easing Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, expanding broadband systems to aid rural and low-income communities and furthering environmental infrastructure through climate resilience and renewable energy sources.
Given that the United States’ current infrastructure received a C- rating by the American Society of Civil Engineers, this investment feels like a long time coming. Still, despite the fact that the bill has been advertised as and even named the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework,” this legislation faced obstacles on both sides of the political aisle. In early November, progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives, including Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib, voted against the bill before the Build Back Better Act made its way to the Senate. On the other hand, a number of Republican legislators refused to back the bill out of fear jeopardizing their leadership or angering conservative outside groups by supporting a bill championed by the Biden administration.
Despite roadblocks in its initial funding and passage, the infrastructure bill should be regarded as a win for the Biden administration, whose public support has dwindled since inauguration. However, the struggle to pass this bill unanimously among the Democrats has clear implications for the rest of Biden's term.
The various reactions toward the infrastructure package illustrate Congress’ internal division and lawmakers' potential behavior over the next three years. On the Democratic side, leaders are both relieved by the bill's success and apprehensive about future legislative efforts. The leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which voted yes with the assurance that centrists would back the upcoming social spending bill, was excited at the infrastructure bill's passing and cautiously optimistic about Build Back Better's chances in the House. Several Republicans supported the infrastructure bill, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellcalling it a “godsend” for his home state of Kentucky. However, some far right members of the Republican party reacted with strong aversion. After the vote, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed that the 13 Republican representatives who backed the bill did so in support of “Joe Biden'sCommunist takeover of America via infrastructure.”
The controversy surrounding the bill's passage has left many uncertain as to what this spells for the future of Biden’s presidency. Despite the Democrats' general success in unifying enough progressives and moderates to pass the bill, the fact that six progressive Democratic representatives remained opposed points to growing disunity within the party. The bill’s long-winded process also illuminated disagreements among Republicans amidst the exacerbated divide between parties. These layers of polarization are evident in the fears expressed by moderate Republicans who supported the bill, concerned that their more conservative leaders and supporters may harbor resentment toward them after voting 'yes' on a bill proposed by a Democratic president.
Though the infrastructure bill is nevertheless a significant accomplishment for Democrats and the Biden administration, the undertones of turmoil within and between parties forebode the continuation of problematic and combative political discourse. If the divide among members of the same party continues to grow alongside the divide between parties, the already slow-paced legislative process is in danger of becoming even more cumbersome to navigate, leading to consequences for the efficiency and efficacy within the legislative process at the expense of the rights and needs of the American public.