‘Infrastructure Week’ is here at last: Biden inks $1 trillion bipartisan building bill

President Joe Biden signs the "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act", on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, Nov. 15, 2021.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In need of a political boost, President Joe Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Monday at a ceremony that drew Democrats and some Republicans who were instrumental in getting the legislation passed.

The measure is expected to create jobs across the country by dispersing billions of dollars to state and local governments to fix crumbling bridges and roads, and expanding broadband internet access to millions of Americans.

“Too often in Washington, the reason we don’t get things done is because we insist on getting everything we want. With this law, we focused on getting things done,” Biden said in his speech.

Among the speakers for the event was Senator Krysten Sinema, the centrist Arizona Democrat whose opposition to some tax increases has forced a scaling back of a companion piece of legislation, Biden‘s $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” plan.

Republicans attending included Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

Biden signed an executive order before the ceremony directing that materials made in the United States be given priority in infrastructure projects, the White House said. It also established a task force made up of top Cabinet officials to guide implementation of the legislation.

The White House said on Sunday that Biden named former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to supervise implementation of the infrastructure effort.

The ceremony, held on the White House South Lawn to accommodate a big crowd, represented an increasingly rare case where members of both parties are willing to stand together and celebrate a bipartisan achievement.

The bill had become a partisan lightning rod, with Republicans complaining that Democrats who control the House of Representatives delayed its passage to ensure party support for Biden‘s $1.75 trillion social policy and climate change legislation, which Republicans reject.

The 13 House Republicans who broke ranks with their party to support the measure have been targeted by former President Donald Trump and some of their own colleagues.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who voted in favor of the bill, told Louisville, Kentucky’s WHAS radio last week that he was not attending the signing ceremony because he has “other things I’ve got to do.”

The phrase “infrastructure week” became a Washington punch line during Trump’s four years in the White House, when plans to focus on investments in America’s roads, railways and other transportation were repeatedly derailed.

Now it is Biden who needs some positive momentum as he struggles to address rising inflation and high gasoline prices that have contributed to a drop in his job approval ratings. The Democratic president and his party are eager to show they can move forward on his agenda ahead of the November 2022 midterm elections when Republicans will seek to regain control of both chambers of Congress.

Inflation concerns

U.S. consumer prices last week posted their biggest annual gain in 31 years, driven by surges in the cost of gasoline and other goods. Republicans have pounced on inflation worries, arguing that the increase reflects Biden‘s sweeping spending agenda.

Biden‘s economic advisers say rising inflation is a global issue related to the COVID-19 pandemic, not a result of the administration’s programs.

Biden‘s Build Back Better package includes provisions on childcare and preschool, eldercare, healthcare, prescription drug pricing and immigration.

The White House is hoping House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will bring the bill to a vote this week. That will only be a first step, however, as the Senate has not yet taken up the legislation, and Democratic divisions could threaten its chances in that chamber.

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