The US Senate on Tuesday approved the biggest reconstruction and infrastructure modernization plan in more than 70 years, one of the pillars of President Joe Biden’s economic program. The trillion-dollar (about 5.19 trillion reais) package was approved with full support from the Democrats, but also with significant backing from the Republicans, which is a major legislative success for the president. There were 69 votes in favor and 30 against, in a Senate that is divided in half. The ambitious project, which during negotiations sacrificed investment in social programs and the fight against climate change, aims to create millions of jobs, strengthen the North American middle class and neutralize China’s advance in the global economy.
Called the American Employment Plan, the program includes new infrastructure investments worth $579 billion. About 312 billion will be allocated to the rehabilitation of roads and bridges and the replacement of part of the fleet of conventional school buses with electric ones. Another section contemplates replacing lead-contaminated water pipes, increasing broadband internet access and improving the electricity grid. The percentage of public investment in infrastructure in the United States is very small compared to what it was in the middle of the last century. In the 1960s, 2.7% of GDP was invested and now only 0.7%, while China spends three times as much.
The bipartisan package will be financed by reusing resources such as budgets not yet allocated to tackle the pandemic, spending cuts and revenue streams. A review by the Congressional Budget Office concluded over the weekend that the package would increase deficits by about $256 billion over the next decade, the great fear of Republicans during the lengthy negotiations. Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, Washington’s most powerful conservative, was one of the senators who voted in favour. Now the bill goes to the House of Representatives (deputies), which resumes sessions in September, after the summer break.
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Biden’s original plan proposal was $2.25 trillion. Democrats had to forgo the social part of the package during weeks of negotiations to win Republican support. Democratic majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer pointed out that while there were “deviations” in the rocky path, the approved plan “will do the United States very good.” For her part, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said it was not a “perfect” infrastructure bill. But “it’s better to get something our voters want rather than nothing,” he said.
Now Democrats will focus their efforts on pushing through the Senate to pass their $3.5 trillion budget plan, which includes the “human infrastructure” package. It intends to significantly expand social security, increase spending on childcare and senior citizens (Medicare), immigration, education, climate change and other social policies that would be paid for with higher taxes on the rich and on large corporations. The discussion on this package is expected to be much more partisan and have only the votes of the Democrats, but it could still pass.
The tough negotiations to pass the infrastructure plan were led by White House officials and a key group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators. This weekend, when it was imminent that an agreement had been reached on the most relevant aspects of the program, former President Donald Trump issued a statement threatening his party colleagues to vote in favour.
“The Biden infrastructure project will be used against the GOP in the upcoming elections of 2022 and 2024. It will be very difficult for me to support someone foolish enough to vote in favour.” In November of next year, legislative elections take place and control of the Capitol, which is currently in the hands of Democrats, will once again be submitted to the polls.
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