The Senate voted 69-30 in early August to approve a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, a historic piece of legislation that could reshape the future of American infrastructure. The bill has long been a goal of the Biden administration and fulfills a major objective of the two parties working together to pass key legislation. It does face an uncertain fate in the House of the Representatives as progressive and moderate Democrats debate spending levels.
The Senate version takes on critical infrastructure needs facing our nation, particularly in rural communities where modernization in desperately needed. The bill touts $550 billion in new spending over the next five years. It invests $110 billion in U.S. roads and bridges, $65 billion for broadband, and $17.3 billion for ports and inland waterways. In addition, the Senate version includes several provisions designed to boost the resiliency of our farms, ranches and rural communities specifically exempting livestock and insect haulers from hours-of-service regulations within a 150 air-mile radius from their destination.
The investments in infrastructure come at a pivotal point. The bridges, roads and reservoirs our communities rely on for daily life and business are in desperate need for upgrades and repair. Farmers and ranchers rely on the country’s roadways but when 42% of our bridges are at least 50 years old those deficiencies put the movement of goods at risk with closures and low weight restrictions. Restrictions increase hidden costs that consumers don’t see at the grocery store leading to lost revenue on the farm.
COVID has changed our lives in countless ways and highlighted deficiencies in our supply chains. Something rural residents have known about for years is the need for additional broadband investment. While most Americans take broadband for granted, 25% of U.S. farms have no access to high-speed internet. Rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture and Wisconsin Farm Bureau supports the $65 billion in additional investment in broadband infrastructure. Current and future generations of rural Americans will be left behind without affordable broadband service that gives online access to health care and education services, government agency resources and new business opportunities.
Centrists threatened to derail Democrats’ economic agenda but the House forged ahead last week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke a stalemate by promising a vote on the infrastructure bill by September 27th. Speaker Pelosi had said the infrastructure bill wouldn’t be voted on till the chamber passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution. In a 220-212 party-line vote, the first step was accomplished by passing the sprawling budget resolution and now the House can set its sites on passing the infrastructure bill.
Moving forward, we could see some major policy changes coming in the next couple weeks that could change American lives for generations to come.