Washington Weekly: August 4, 2021
The Past Week in D.C.
The Senate is busy at work this week voting on amendments to the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Normally the amendment process could take weeks on a bill of this size, however Senate Majority Leader Schumer is committed to passing the bill this week so that his party can move on to its $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. The bipartisan group of 22 Senators, who largely negotiated the deal, have agreed to kill any amendments that might jeopardize the bill’s overall survival.
Senator Schumer is threatening to keep the Senate in session over the August recess to fulfill his promise to get both the bipartisan deal done and start the reconciliation process with a budget resolution vote. (See here to understand the complicated budget resolution process).
Secretary of Energy and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is coming back to Michigan to tout both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the upcoming reconciliation bill. Secretary Granholm will visit several manufacturing facilities tomorrow along with members of Michigan’s congressional delegation to highlight Michigan’s potential for clean energy jobs.
Michigan LCV Analysis: What does this mean for Michigan?
Late Sunday night, an unusual time for a Senate session, the 2,702 page bipartisan infrastructure bill was finally released. After months of negotiations, we can now begin to see how this legislation will impact Michigan.
Due to partisan differences and a 50-50 Senate, bold climate action was always going to have to come through a second partisan package. Yet there were initial hopes there would be bipartisan consensus on funding for electrical vehicle infrastructure, nation-wide lead service line replacement, and clean energy incentives. The release of the bill on Sunday unfortunately confirmed that climate and water priorities met the chopping block during final negotiations.
In good news for the Great Lakes — and the 20% of the world’s fresh water that they hold — the bipartisan bill includes $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Program — the largest total ever given to the program in one piece of legislation. A second major water priority also made the cut, as $10 billion was allocated for nationwide PFAS remediation.
House delegation members expressed their concerns about earmarks for transportation funding being left out. The House passed a funding bill totaling $210 million for 12 of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts, but this will likely not make the cut in the final Senate product.
Michigan knows all too well the danger that lead pipes pose to our drinking water, yet it is a major problem throughout the country, and disproportionately in communities of color. Unfortunately, the bill falls woefully short of what is needed to address the issue. Funding for lead service line replacement was gashed from the President’s goal of $45 billion to $15 billion in the bipartisan deal. Experts estimate the total amount needed to replace all lead service lines could be $60 billion or more, meaning that if additional funding is not passed through separate legislation in the near future, lead will remain a significant problem in the state and throughout the country — and continue to exemplify how structural racism is built into America’s infrastructure.
The lack of climate provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure bill leaves the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package as seemingly the only vehicle to fulfill the President’s climate goals and to meet the deadlines set by scientists to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Senate Majority Leader Schumer has stated: “The Senate is going to stay here until we finish our work,” implying the Senate will not go home for August recess until both the bipartisan deal is done, and the Senate begins the budget reconciliation process. For the sake of our climate and our state, let’s hope he’s right.
A Deeper Dive
In order to deliver on both President Biden’s full Build Back Better agenda and keep the United States on pace to meet its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement, Democrats will use a process known as budget reconciliation to avoid the filibuster and pass a massive $3.5 trillion package along party lines.
While only an outline of the plan has been provided, the White House and key stakeholders in the House and Senate have made clear their priorities. Most pivotal to reaching climate goals is the adoption of a Clean Energy Standard (CES). A CES will incentivize utilities to adopt renewable energy sources, and penalize them with fines for missing targets. With the electrification of everything, from cars to heating and cooling buildings, rapidly approaching, ensuring that electricity is generated from clean sources is essential to fighting climate change.
Another critical pillar included in the package is the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps. This modern adaptation of the New Deal era Civilian Conservation Corps will put people to work doing the many tasks required to decarbonize our economy. From installing solar panels, to coastal restoration projects, to wildfire management, a revamped CCC will ensure good paying jobs go hand in hand with fighting climate change.
Beyond addressing the climate crisis, the full Build Back Better agenda will make major investments into the care economy. Expansion of Medicare to include dental and vision care, implementation of universal Pre-K and free community college, permanent establishment of the Child Tax Credit, and an increase in paid family leave have all been listed as priorities to make the final bill.
While the passage and adoption of the $3.5 trillion package has a long road ahead, the investments that are being debated have not been on the table since the New Deal, and represent a significant and positive shift from recent years in what national elected leaders can accomplish for the American people.