In this era of divided government, take a moment to be grateful that Congress delivered on the promised and overdue investment in infrastructure this nation so desperately needs.
The $1 trillion bill passed late Friday will invest in America so we can build back better. It’s an awful slogan, but one that at least is clear on intent.
It’s time to invest in America.
For New Mexico, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will bring $3.5 billion, the bulk of which — $2.5 billion — will repair and rebuild roads and bridges across the state.
Other money will be spent to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations, improve broadband access in rural areas, secure safe water and mitigate wildfires.
While the process was overly long and complicated — from Senate passage of the legislation in August to House approval in November — Congress finally got something done. And in both the Senate and House, several Republicans voted with the Democratic majority. It’s barely bipartisan, but even some movement in that direction is an improvement.
Part of the delay with passing the legislation is strong disagreement about what constitutes infrastructure. For many, the definition is limited to bricks and mortar. To that way of thinking, federal dollars should be spent repairing highways or shoring up bridges.
But President Joe Biden understood broadband connectivity is just as essential to the future as a smooth ride on a four-lane highway and persuaded Congress to make an investment.
That’s important for New Mexico, which lacks reliable internet service in many parts of the state. Some $100 million in the legislation should be coming here to expand the broadband network and make it more affordable.
We saw firsthand why that matters over the months of COVID-19 isolation. During the pandemic, too many children missed classes because their internet connection was spotty. No student should have to complete an assignment in the parking lot of the local library or McDonald’s because the signal won’t reach their house.
With remote work more common, strong internet service in all parts of New Mexico will bring jobs to rural communities — not because a business or company moves in, but because an individual sits down to work every day at the kitchen table.
Now, Congress has to finish the job and pass a companion bill — actually named the Build Back Better Act — that focuses on a different kind of infrastructure. This $1.75 trillion bill is designed to secure the social safety net and ensure that in the wealthiest nation in the world, human needs once again are a priority.
Some of the provisions include investing in preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, expanding Child Tax Credits for a year, providing four weeks of federally paid parental, sick or caregiver leave, and extending pandemic-era Affordable Care Act subsidies. A key provision in the Build Back Better Act is $500 billion to combat climate change — essential, given the need to cut back greenhouse gas emissions.
The bill should have passed with the original infrastructure package, but a handful of House moderates want to see the Congressional Budget Office report on long-term effects on the budget deficit. The House needs to act when it returns from recess next week — if the CBO score is done — so the legislation can go to the Senate. Stay tuned for rocky negotiations and plenty of bickering there. And that’s just among the Democrats. Republicans are mostly sitting this one out.
Congress can still get the job done — with good-faith negotiating, give-and-take and, in the end, an up-or-down vote. That is how any political party delivers results, not just for its supporters but the entire nation. The nation will be investing in infrastructure. Next up, invest in our people.