WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Monday signed his hotly contested $ 1 trillion infrastructure deal in front of a two-party and festive crowd on the White House lawn, saying the new injection of money for roads, bridges , ports and more will make life “change for the better” for the American people.
But the outlook is tougher for a new bipartisanship ahead of the 2022 midterm election as Biden returns to tougher negotiations over his broader $ 1.85 trillion social spending program.
The president hopes to use the infrastructure law to rebuild his popularity, which has taken a hit amid rising inflation and the inability to fully shake off the public health and economic risks of COVID-19.
“My message to the American people is this: America is on the move again and your life is going to change for the better,” he said.
With the bipartisan agreement, the president had to choose between his promise to foster national unity and a commitment to transformative change. The final measure reduced much of his initial vision of infrastructure. Still, the administration hopes to sell the new law as a success that has bridged partisan divisions and uplifts the country with clean water, high-speed internet and a move away from fossil fuels.
“People, too often in Washington, the reason we haven’t got things done is because we’ve insisted on getting whatever we want. Everything, ”Biden said. “With this law, we focused on getting things done. I ran for the Presidency because, in my opinion, the only way to move our country forward was through compromise and consensus. “
Biden will be exiting Washington to sell the plan more widely in the coming days.
He plans to travel to New Hampshire on Tuesday to visit a bridge on the state’s “red list” for repairs, and will be heading to Detroit on Wednesday for a stopover at the electric vehicle assembly plant in General Motors, while other officials are also deploying across the country. The President visited the Port of Baltimore last week to highlight how legislated supply chain investments could curb inflation and strengthen supply chains, a major concern of voters facing prices higher.
“We see this as an opportunity because we know that the president’s agenda is quite popular,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday before the signing. Voter education can go “beyond the legislative process to talk about how it will help them. and we hope that will have an impact.
Biden delayed signing the hard-fought infrastructure deal after it passed on November 5 until lawmakers returned from Congressional recess and can join in a booming bipartisan event. On Sunday night before the signing, the White House announced that Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, would help manage and coordinate the implementation of infrastructure spending.
Monday’s rally on the White House lawn was particularly upbeat with fanfare and spirited speeches, in contrast to the drama and tension as the fate of the package had been uncertain for several months. Speakers welcomed the measure to create jobs, fight inflation and meet the needs of voters.
Ohio Senator Rob Portman, a Republican who helped negotiate the package, celebrated Biden’s willingness to get rid of much of his original proposal to help rally GOP lawmakers. Portman even credited former President Donald Trump with raising awareness about infrastructure, even though the loser in the 2020 election has expressed intense opposition to the final deal.
“This bipartisan support for this bill stems from the fact that it makes sense to our constituents, but the center-out approach should be the norm, not the exception,” Portman said.
The signing included governors and mayors from both parties and union and business leaders. In addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the guest list included Republicans such as Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, Maine Senator Susan Collins, New York Representative Tom Reed, Alaska Representative Don Young and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
In order to reach a bipartisan deal, the president had to more than halve his original ambition to spend $ 2.3 trillion on infrastructure. The bill that becomes law on Monday actually includes about $ 550 billion in new spending over 10 years, since some of the spending in the package was already planned.
The deal ultimately won the backing of 19 Senate Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. Thirteen House Republicans also voted for the infrastructure bill. An angry Trump issued a statement attacking “Old Crow” McConnell and other Republicans for cooperating on “a terrible Democratic Socialist infrastructure plan.”
McConnell said the country “desperately needs” the new infrastructure money, but skipped Monday’s signing ceremony, telling WHAS radio in Louisville, Ky., That he had “other things” to do. to do.
Historians, economists and engineers interviewed by the Associated Press praised Biden’s efforts. But they stressed that $ 1 trillion was not enough to overcome the government’s decades-long failure to maintain and modernize the country’s infrastructure. The policy has essentially forced a compromise in terms of the potential impact not only on the climate, but on the ability to overtake the rest of the world in this century and remain the dominant economic power.
“We need to be sober here about our infrastructure gap in terms of the level of investment and admit that this will not solve our infrastructure problems across the country,” said David Van Slyke, Dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University.
Biden also tried unsuccessfully to tie the infrastructure package to passing a broader package of $ 1.85 trillion of proposed spending on families, healthcare, and a switch to renewables that could help. to fight against climate change. This measure has yet to gain sufficient support from the narrow Democratic majorities in the Senate and House.
Biden continues to work to appease Democratic skeptics of the larger whole, like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, while retaining the more liberal branches of his party. Pelosi said in remarks upon signing the bill on Monday that the separate package would pass “hopefully this week.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz expressed concern in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that Republican support for the infrastructure law could ultimately lead Democrats to rally and support the Second Package.
“They gave Joe Biden a political victory,” Cruz said of his fellow Republicans. “Now he’s going to roam the country bragging about, look at this great bipartisan victory. And that extra boost, sadly, makes it more likely that they’ll get their Democrats in shape and pass a multibillion dollar spending bill on top of that. “
The infrastructure haggling has shown that Biden can still bring Democrats and Republicans together, even as tensions continue to mount over the Jan.6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump who mistakenly believe Biden is not. was not legitimately elected president. Yet the result is a product that may not address the existential threat of climate change or the transformative legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose portrait hangs in Biden’s Oval Office.
“Yes, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a big deal,” said Peter Norton, professor of history in the engineering department at the University of Virginia. “But the bill is not transformational, because most of it is more or less the same.”
Norton compared the limited action on climate change to the start of World War II, when Roosevelt and Congress reoriented the entire American economy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within two months there was a ban on automobile production. Dealers had no new cars to sell for four years, with factories focusing on weapons and war material. To save fuel consumption, a national speed limit of 35 mph was introduced.
“The emergency we face today warrants a comparable emergency response,” Norton said.