Five things you didn’t know were in the infrastructure bill
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Five things you didn’t know were in the infrastructure bill

The Senate’s massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure package marked a big bipartisan achievement after months of negotiations.

The legislation, which still needs to be passed by the House, would provide $550 billion in new federal spending over five years.

The new investments would reach far beyond the traditional infrastructure projects for roads, bridges and railroads. There’s also money to improve Americans’ access to broadband, for electric school buses and to start addressing racial discrimination in infrastructure. The bill would also change the tax reporting requirements for cryptocurrencies and delay a controversial drug rebate rule — both included as ways to help pay for the investments.

Still, the bill leaves out a number of other nontraditional infrastructure investments that President Joe Biden had called for. His original $2.25 trillion proposal, known as the American Jobs Plan, included money for caregiving for aging Americans and for workforce training — provisions that Republicans argued did not belong in an infrastructure bill.

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The bipartisan bill also does not include corporate tax hikes, like Biden first proposed to pay for the spending. Instead, lawmakers found other ways to help cover the cost, like imposing new Superfund fees and repurposing some Covid relief funds approved by Congress during the pandemic.

But an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that those provisions would not completely pay for the bill and the legislation would add $256 billion to the federal budget deficit over 10 years. Despite that analysis, the bill’s authors say the new spending would be offset by a combination of savings and new revenue that total $519 billion, only some of which is reflected in the CBO score since the agency is limited in what it can include in its formal report.

Here are five things in the bill that might surprise you:

1. Broadband upgrade

The legislation would provide a $65 billion investment in improving the nation’s broadband infrastructure, according to the bill text. It’s a smaller investment than the $100 billion Biden initially wanted.

The legislation aims to help lower the price households pay for internet service by requiring federal funding recipients to offer low-cost affordable plans, by creating price transparency and by boosting competition in areas where existing providers aren’t providing adequate service. It would create a permanent federal program to help more low-income households access the internet, according to the White House.

2. Electric school buses

The bill makes a big investment in electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to use them.

It would help school districts across the country buy clean, American-made, zero-emission buses, aiming to replace the yellow school bus fleet by providing $5 billion for zero-emission and clean buses and $2.5 billion for ferries.

The bill would invest $7.5 billion to build a nationwide network of plug-in electric vehicle chargers along highways to enable long-distance travel, as well as within communities where people live, work and shop.

3. Addressing racial discrimination in infrastructure

The legislation contains $1 billion to reconnect communities, disproportionately Black neighborhoods, that were divided by highways and other infrastructure, according to the White House. It would fund planning, design, demolition and reconstruction of street grids, parks or other infrastructure.

Many Black homes, businesses and neighborhoods across the country were bulldozed in the 1950s and 1960s to clear space for interstate highways, displacing many residents and entrepreneurs and cutting others off from the rest of the community.

Biden’s original plan called for a $20 billion investment to redress historic inequities and ensure new projects advance opportunity, racial equity and environmental justice.

4. New tax regulations on cryptocurrencies

A provision tucked away at the end of the Senate bill would impose new tax reporting requirements on cryptocurrency transactions — a move that congressional estimates say could raise $28 billion in new revenue to help pay for the infrastructure package. The legislation could have sweeping ramifications for cryptocurrency investors and innovators.

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The provision appears aimed at cryptocurrency exchanges that help investors trade bitcoin and other virtual currencies. But opponents argue that the measure is written so broadly it could also unintentionally affect others in the cryptocurrency ecosystem — from software developers to bitcoin miners, who aren’t considered financial brokers in any practical sense. Industry advocates have said those non-brokers couldn’t provide the tax information that would be required under the law and could be driven overseas as a result, with negative effects on innovation and US technological leadership.

In a last-ditch effort, a group of senators unsuccessfully tried to amend the infrastructure bill to make clear that only cryptocurrency exchanges would be covered by the new tax reporting rules — and cryptocurrency advocates have vowed to pressure House lawmakers to adopt narrower language.

5. Delaying a drug rebate rule

To help pay for the infrastructure spending, the legislation would delay the implementation of a controversial Trump administration rule that would radically change how drugs are priced and paid for in Medicare and Medicaid. It’s expected to save $51 billion.

The rule, which the Trump administration unveiled last November, would effectively ban drug makers from providing rebates to pharmacy benefit managers and insurers. Instead, drug companies would be encouraged to pass the discounts directly to patients at the pharmacy counter.

The Trump administration had backed down from issuing this rule in 2019 after it was found to raise costs for seniors and the federal government. The proposed rule, which was expected to raise Medicare premiums, would also have increased Medicare spending by $170 billion over 10 years, according to the CBO.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers, sued the Trump administration to stop implementation of the rule.

The Biden administration agreed in February to push back the implementation until 2023, instead of 2022.

Here’s what else is in the bill:

Funding for roads and bridges

The legislation calls for investing $110 billion for roads, bridges and major infrastructure projects, according to an updated fact sheet from the White House. That’s significantly less than the $159 billion Biden initially requested in the American Jobs Plan.

Included is $40 billion for bridge repair, replacement and rehabilitation. The White House says it would be the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system, which started in the 1950s.

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The deal also contains $16 billion for major projects that would be too large or complex for traditional funding programs, according to the White House.

Some 20%, or 173,000 miles, of the nation’s highways and major roads are in poor condition, as are 45,000 bridges, according to the White House.

The investments would focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity and safety for all users, including cyclists and pedestrians.

Also included in the package is $11 billion for transportation safety, including a program to help states and localities reduce crashes and fatalities, especially of cyclists and pedestrians, according to the White House. It would direct funding to highway, truck, and pipelines and hazardous materials safety efforts.

Money for transit and rail

The package would provide $39 billion to modernize public transit, according to the bill text. That’s less than the $49 billion contained in an earlier bipartisan deal and the $85 billion that Biden initially wanted to invest in modernizing transit systems and helping them expand to meet rider demand.

The funds would repair and upgrade existing infrastructure, make stations accessible to all users, bring transit service to new communities and modernize rail and bus fleets, including replacing thousands of vehicles with zero-emission models, according to the White House.

The deal would also invest $66 billion in passenger and freight rail, according to the bill text. The funds would eliminate Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, modernize the Northeast Corridor line and bring rail service to areas outside the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, according to the White House. Included in the package is $12 billion in partnership grants for intercity rail service, including high-speed rail.

The funding is less than the $80 billion Biden originally wanted to send to Amtrak, which he relied on for decades to get home to Delaware from Washington.

It would be the largest federal investment in public transit in history and in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago, according to the White House.

Upgrading airports, ports and waterways

The legislation would invest $17 billion in port infrastructure and $25 billion in airports to address repair and maintenance backlogs, reduce congestion and emissions near ports and airports, and promote electrification and other low-carbon technologies, according to the White House.

It is similar to the funding in the bipartisan deal and Biden’s original proposal.

Improving power and water systems

The bill would invest $65 billion to rebuild the electric grid, according to the White House. It calls for building thousands of miles of new power lines and expanding renewable energy, the White House said.

It would provide $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure. It would replace lead service lines and pipes so that communities have access to clean drinking water.

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Another roughly $50 billion would go toward making the system more resilient — protecting it from drought, floods and cyberattacks, the White House said.

Environmental remediation

The bill would provide $21 billion to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites, reclaim abandoned mine land and cap orphaned gas wells, according to the White House.

How Congress will pay for it

The CBO and the bill’s negotiators have different views on the funding measures in the legislation. The agency doesn’t think it is fully paid for and would therefore increase the deficit, and some experts agree.

However, according to a statement distributed last Thursday by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, and Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, who spearheaded the bipartisan negotiations, the package includes $519 billion in offsets.

They include:

  • $53 billion that stems from roughly two dozen states opting to terminate pandemic jobless benefits early in order to push the jobless to return to work and from fewer people collecting unemployment compensation because the economy improved faster than initially predicted.
  • $67 billion in unused savings from the Covid-19 employer retention tax credit that the CBO projected would be utilized but were not.
  • $106 billion in unused savings from Covid-19 paid and family leave tax credits that were projected to be used but were not.
  • $51 billion from delaying the implementation of the controversial rebate rule for Medicare Part D prescription drugs.
  • $21 billion from repurposing unused funding from the 2020 coronavirus relief bills for programs assisting small businesses, airline workers and schools.
  • $10.2 billion from sales of future Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions and $67 billion from proceeds of the agency’s February auction for mid-band spectrum that supports wireless services.
  • $53 billion in economic growth resulting from a 33% return on investment on the long-term projects.
  • $28 billion from changing the tax reporting requirements for cryptocurrencies.
  • $21 billion from extending fees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac assess on loans included in mortgage-backed securities.
  • $14.5 billion from reinstating certain Superfund fees on chemicals to help fund the cleanup of highly contaminated waste sites.
  • Plus nearly $27 billion in other measures.

What’s missing

The deal leaves out Biden’s proposal to spend $400 billion to bolster caregiving for aging Americans and those with disabilities — the second largest measure in the American Jobs Plan.

His proposal would have expanded access to long-term care services under Medicaid, eliminating the wait list for hundreds of thousands of people. It would have provided more opportunity for people to receive care at home through community-based services or from family members.

It would also have improved the wages of home health workers, who now make approximately $12 an hour, and would have put in place an infrastructure to give caregiving workers the opportunity to join a union.

Also left on the sideline: $100 billion for workforce development, which would have helped dislocated workers, assisted underserved groups and put students on career paths before they graduate high school.

The deal also leaves out the $18 billion Biden proposed to modernize the Veterans Affairs hospitals, which are on average 47 years older than private-sector hospitals.

What’s also out is a slew of corporate tax hikes that Biden wanted to use to pay for the American Jobs Plan but Republicans staunchly opposed.

Biden’s original proposal called for raising the corporate income tax rate to 28%, up from the 21% rate set by Republicans’ 2017 tax cut act, as well as increasing the minimum tax on US corporations to 21% and calculating it on a country-by-country basis to deter companies from sheltering profits in international tax havens.

It also would have levied a 15% minimum tax on the income the largest corporations report to investors, known as book income, as opposed to the income reported to the Internal Revenue Service, and would have made it harder for US companies to acquire or merge with foreign businesses to avoid paying US taxes by claiming to be foreign companies.

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