‘America is moving again’: Biden signs $1.2T infrastructure bill, bringing billions to Pa.

The sprawling funding package will ‘will strengthen not only our infrastructure, but our economy, our environment, and [provide] good union-paying jobs,’ Gov. Tom Wolf said

U.S. President Joe Biden (3rd-R) talks to Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (2nd-R) as Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (R) and Vice President Kamala Harris (L) look on after signing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as he is surrounded by lawmakers and members of his Cabinet during a ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House on November 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. The $1.2 trillion package will provide funds for public infrastructure projects including improvements to the country’s transportation networks, increasing rural broadband access, and projects to modernize water and energy systems. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday signed his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill into law during a ceremony at the White House packed with some 800 supporters, heralding what he said was a “truly consequential” spending bill that will improve Americans’ day-to-day lives.

But Democrats also emphasized that there is more to come—a $1.85 trillion social spending measure that still faces a close final vote in the U.S. House and  major changes in the evenly divided Senate, where passage will have to come without GOP support.

Biden said the infrastructure legislation— backed by nearly all congressional Democrats, as well as 19 Senate Republicans and 13 House Republicans — is a signal that polarized public officials in Washington can come together to create jobs and solve long-lingering problems.

“My message to the American people is: America is moving again. And your life is going to change for the better,” Biden said during the South Lawn ceremony attended by federal and state legislators, governors, mayors, labor leaders, business leaders, and other supporters.

The signing marked a significant victory for the president’s economic agenda.

But the tougher step still looms, as Democrats attempt to rally their narrow majorities to pass the accompanying bill that would spend trillions more on new programs to expand access to child care and preschool and combat climate change.

Two senators critical to reaching agreement on the infrastructure plan, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, joined Biden on stage for the bill signing and spoke ahead of the president’s remarks.

U.S. House sends $1.2T infrastructure bill to Biden for his signature

“Our legislation represents the substantive policy changes that some have said are no longer possible in today’s Senate,” Sinema said. “How many times have we heard that important policy can only happen on a party line? Our legislation proves the opposite.”

Portman also lauded the bipartisan work involved in approving the infrastructure measure, saying the deal became possible after the group of lawmakers involved in negotiations agreed to shrink the package down to physical infrastructure — and separate out Biden’s proposals for new social and climate-change programs.

“Mr. President … you and I will disagree on the tax and spending (provisions) in the other priority you have, the reconciliation bill, but I think we can both agree that this infrastructure investment shouldn’t be a one-time bipartisan accomplishment,” said Portman, who is retiring at the end of his term next year.

“This should be the beginning of a renewed effort to work together on big issues facing this country,” Portman added.

In his remarks before signing the bill, Biden praised Portman as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who voted for the bill but did not attend Monday’s ceremony.

The new law, Biden said, is “proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results.”

The bill will bring billions of dollars in funding for projects into Pennsylvania. According to an analysis by U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle’s, D-2nd District, office, the state is in line to receive:

  • $11.3 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $1.6 billion for bridge replacement
  • $2.8 billion over five years to improve public transportation options across the state
  •  $171 million over five years to support the expansion of an EV charging network in the state
  • $49 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $26 million to protect against cyberattacks
  •  $1.4 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities

In a statement, Gov. Tom Wolf, who was among the state governors to join Biden at the White House, said the sprawling funding package “will strengthen not only our infrastructure, but our economy, our environment, and [provide] good union-paying jobs. It will undoubtedly move Pennsylvania forward and I am grateful that the president shares my commitment to addressing these critical needs.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., an early Biden ally, praised the bill in a statement posted to Twitter. He called on the narrowly divided Senate to get to work on passing the budget reconciliation bill that would, among other things, expand access to early childhood education and expand home- and community-based services for the elderly and people with disabilities.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, the only Black member of the state’s congressional delegation, stressed the local impact that the infrastructure bill will have on such Philadelphia neighborhoods as Nicetown, Chinatown, and the Delaware River waterfront.

The Nicetown Community Development Corporation says it plans to use the money to develop a $9 million sports court project beneath the elevated portion of the Roosevelt Boulevard Highway, the Philadelphia Tribune reported last week. The project is slated to include basketball courts, rain gardens, a skate park, a small amphitheater and a plaza for vendors, the newspaper reported.

Nationally, provisions of the new law include $110 billion to repair and rebuild roads and bridges; $90 billion for public transit; and $66 billion for passenger rail improvements.

Airports and ports also will see an infusion of federal funding, as will the country’s electric grid.

Billions more will pay for electric vehicle charging stations and the purchase of buses and ferries that run on electricity.

Another $65 billion will go toward expanding access to broadband internet access across the country, a provision touted during the signing ceremony by Donneta Williams, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1025 at a Wilmington, N.C., plant producing optical fiber needed for broadband upgrades.

“To paraphrase one of my favorite former vice presidents, it’s a big effing deal,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Before heading to the White House, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who was among the 10 senators who wrote the bill, told reporters on a press call that the signing was the culmination of several months of negotiation.

“This is one of the best days I’ve had in Washington, D.C.,” Tester told reporters. “This is something that, for six months we met and we argued and we fought and we worked and in the end we got something that is the biggest non-emergency investment in infrastructure in our nation’s history.”

The legislation drew some bipartisan support in both chambers. But the 13 House Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, who joined Democrats in support of the bill have faced backlash for that vote from constituents and some of their colleagues. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, (R-Ga.), tweeted that they were “traitors,” and posted their office phone numbers.

Echoing their leadership, Pennsylvania’s Republican lawmakers remained sharply critical of the bill. On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-11th District, said the bill will “add hundred of billions of dollars to our debt.”

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12th District, slammed both the infrastructure bill, and the budget reconciliation bill, dismissing the former as an “irresponsible, trillion-dollar spending bill.”

A half-dozen progressive House Democrats also opposed the physical infrastructure bill.

Those “no” votes included Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri, who wanted the $1.85 trillion social safety net and climate bill, known as “Build Back Better,” to be voted on at the same time as the infrastructure bill.

House Democrats have voted to set the terms of debate over the social reform package, and have aimed to hold a final vote as soon as this week.

“This is a great accomplishment, and there’s more to come,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at the White House.

Environmental advocacy groups and their allies in the Congressional Progressive Caucus also have sought to present the infrastructure bill and the $1.85 trillion social spending plan as a package deal.

“This is scene one of a two-act play,” Manish Bapna, the president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “It sets the stage for Congress to pass the Build Back Better Act. That’s the centerpiece of President Biden’s strategy to drive equitable recovery with climate action in a moment the country urgently needs both.”

Asked about the social spending and climate bill, Tester stressed that it and the physical infrastructure bill are separate measures.

His priorities in the larger spending plan include making child care more accessible and affordable, providing federal housing funding and addressing climate change, he added.

During Monday’s ceremony, Vice President Kamala Harris also framed the two infrastructure bills as a set that is to be completed.

“This legislation, as significant as it is, as historic as it is, is part one of two,” Harris said. “Congress must also pass the Build Back Better Act.”

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura Olson covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.

Ariana Figueroa
Ariana Figueroa

Ariana covers the nation's capital for States Newsroom. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections and campaign finance.

Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.