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What Minnesota’s delegation loves and hates about the Senate’s big infrastructure deal

In need of 60 votes to pass the evenly divided Senate, the bill is full of compromises.

The long road to a successful infrastructure deal is nearing its end in Congress this week with a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and internet connections.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

A more seamless experience at airports. Funding for clean drinking water. Modernizing the nation’s power grid to support electric vehicles. The highest burst of government spending ever for climate resilience programs. In the Senate’s upcoming vote on the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, some long-awaited measures like these could be approved, changing the lives — and, potentially, taxes — of Americans across the country.

The long road to a successful infrastructure deal is nearing its end in Congress this week with a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the country’s roads, bridges, pipes and internet connections, setting in motion a long-awaited debate in the chamber to enact one of President Joe Biden’s economic policy priorities.

The infrastructure package arrives after a weekslong back-and-forth among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who worked to transform their initial plan into 2,702 pages of legislative text called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The fate of their efforts is now in the hands of the Senate, where the infrastructure package has little margin for error — it requires 60 votes to pass, and the Senate is split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans.

The package offers a chance for Biden to show that he can bring both sides of the aisle together despite being at odds on a range of issues with Republicans since taking office earlier this year. The White House released a fact sheet that details the package, noting that it includes roughly $550 billion for new federal infrastructure spending with the total price tag landing around $1 trillion.

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If the package passes in the Senate, Biden won’t be the only one celebrating. Though the numbers aren’t yet clear on how much money Minnesota will get for its projects, some of Minnesota’s congressional delegation — largely moderates — expect their priorities to be met by the infrastructure bill. But others, including progressives and conservatives, are less happy with the bill. Minnesota’s delegation is a case study in the congressional divides over the largest government expenditure on the public works system since 2009.

A good week for moderates

In bipartisan deals like this one, moderates are often the happiest members of Congress after a bill goes through the process. For a bill to have a real chance at getting the 60-vote majority in the Senate, it will need to contain a lot of compromises.

Sen. Tina Smith
MinnPost file photo by Briana Bierschbach
Sen. Tina Smith
Neither of Minnesota’s senators, Democrats Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, are part of the bipartisan group leading the charge to get the infrastructure bill over the finish line. But both expressed optimism that the bill will pass, and excitement that some of their priority projects and issues will be addressed and funded with this package.

“Our 21st century economy demands 21st century infrastructure, and this package brings us one step closer to making that a reality,” Klobuchar said. “This bill is an investment in our nation’s future, and I look forward to it passing the Senate and being signed into law.”

Klobuchar, a staunch advocate for broadband expansion, said the bill includes funding based on her legislation with Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina to expand rural and tribal broadband and help low-income families get broadband access. The infrastructure package also included provisions from some of Klobuchar’s bills to combat distracted driving, help nonprofits and places of worship save money on energy efficient upgrades, support the Department of  Transportation in its work to cut down on human trafficking and involve veterans in the DOT’s modernization of the transportation workforce.

Smith called the legislation “much needed and overdue,” and said that “it is going to make a huge difference in Minnesota where we have billions of dollars of needs, and this is going to help us to fill those needs.” Smith said she was also “delighted” to see broadband investments in the bill as well as investments in public transit systems and clean drinking water.

Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Betty McCollum
Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum showed support for the infrastructure package as well, calling it a “critical investment in the future competitiveness of of the U.S. that strengthens our economy, creates jobs, combats climate change and makes families and communities more secure.”

But as one of Minnesota’s most progressive voters, McCollum said she expects House members to include additional priorities “that will make the legislation even stronger” in reviewing the bill should it pass the Senate.

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Too green? Or not green enough?

Others in Minnesota’s delegation were not as impressed with the infrastructure package, mirroring the viewpoints of their respective parties across the country.

Despite positive messaging from the Biden administration, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are unhappy with the current state of the massive infrastructure bill.

“I am encouraged that the Senate has been able to find common ground – and appears on track to pass an infrastructure package through regular order with strong, bipartisan support,” said Second District Rep. Angie Craig. “However, I remain disappointed by a process that has largely bypassed the House and omitted many vital provisions critical to Minnesota’s economic recovery – including investments in biofuels infrastructure. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the White House to ensure that the final package delivers sufficient resources to support our state and the Second Congressional District.”

Rep. Tom Emmer
REUTERS/Leah Millis
Rep. Tom Emmer
Sixth District Republican Rep. Tom Emmer did not respond to requests for comment on this story, but the NRCC chairman has said publicly that the infrastructure bill will be “dire” for the U.S. cryptocurrency industry. Emmer, a pro-crypto lawmaker, said the bill will carry a roughly $30 billion cryptocurrency tax.

As the NRCC chair, Emmer pushed the House GOP to accept donations in the form of cryptocurrency. Emmer also recently pressed the IRS to ease regulations on cryptocurrency donations to charitable groups.

“The crypto pay-for in the infrastructure bill will be dire for the U.S. crypto industry. It mandates a Know Your Customer reporting requirement for blockchain and crypto entities that can’t be met, for instance, by miners. This provision showcases Congress’ lack of crypto literacy or appreciation for the crypto innovators that bring jobs and opportunity to the United States and must be corrected,” Emmer said.

Jim Hagedorn, Minnesota’s Republican First District representative, told the Star Tribune last month that he supports infrastructure in the form of roads, bridges, broadband, locks, dams, airports, rail, pipelines and sewers, but that the country doesn’t need “$600 billion for green energy mandates, Green New Deal, all sorts of excess.”

To Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar, a progressive, the bill does not do enough to combat climate change or to invest in human infrastructure she says her constituents have been calling for.

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“While the bipartisan infrastructure bill will provide key investments, it is not enough to meet the moment,” Omar said. “Our constituents sent us to Congress to bring bold, transformative investments back to our communities.”

Reconciliation could be a boon for some progressives

Omar says the infrastructure package is simply not enough. She pointed to the upcoming reconciliation package as crucial to meet the goals of the progressives in Congress.

Led by the progressives in their party, Democrats intend to pass a separate, $3.5 trillion spending bill through a process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority to advance through the Senate rather than the 60 votes needed for other legislation, including the infrastructure bill.

“While the bipartisan infrastructure bill will provide key investments, it is not enough to meet the moment,” Omar said. “We, as a nation, have a moral responsibility to make sure everyone has their basic needs like food, housing and health care met. Our communities need us to deliver, which is why the reconciliation package is crucial to move alongside the infrastructure bill.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar
MinnPost photo by Craig Lassig
Rep. Ilhan Omar
The reconciliation package could help President Biden achieve some of his “human infrastructure” agenda, adding up to the biggest expansion of social welfare programs since former President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which included Medicare and Medicaid, in the 1960s.

As it stands, the reconciliation bill includes a progressive treasure trove of government social, environmental, educational and healthcare programs, including funding for universal pre-K, nutrition assistance, an expansion of the child tax credit and clean energy initiatives. All of these programs would be paid for by tax increases on the wealthiest Americans and American businesses.

The reconciliation bill has also become one of progressive Democrats’ biggest bargaining tools in recent days.

Omar often joins ranks with fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus and “Squad” member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said in a July virtual town hall event that House progressives “will tank the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless we will also pass the reconciliation bill.”

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Smith said that she has many proposals in the reconciliation bill — especially involving child care and clean energy — and views the bill as an essential partner to the infrastructure package.

Rep. Angie Craig
Rep. Angie Craig
But not every Democrat sees the reconciliation package as the right path forward. Although Craig took issue with the infrastructure bill as it stands, she publicly stated that she does not believe a bipartisan infrastructure package should be coupled with a reconciliation bill later in the year, and would encourage a standalone vote as soon as a final infrastructure package is finalized and agreed upon.

No matter which way either vote goes, it looks like Congress will be stuck in the Capitol, foregoing their August recess that would start next week for senators in favor of sticking around until some conclusion is reached.

“[The reconciliation and infrastructure bills] both come together to be the whole package that we need to accomplish,” Smith said. “To me, just doing one without the other is like having a stool with only one leg… I don’t think we’re going to leave town until those two things are done.”