A Big Bump in the Road for Roads, Bridges Funding

President Joe Biden huddles with reporters
With the deadline reset to Oct. 31, President Biden will be making the case for his agenda to the public and working on Senate moderates to agree on a topline figure for his human infrastructure package. (Michael Reynolds/EPA via Bloomberg News)

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President Joe Biden is pledging to continue to promote his domestic agenda stuck in Congress.

U.S. House Democratic leaders delayed a vote on the president’s Build Back Better plan because moderates and progressives disagree on legislative priorities. Moderates are pushing for approval of a Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure measure. Progressives keep calling for the infrastructure bill to be linked to a $3.5 trillion social infrastructure budget package, which may no longer stand at $3.5 trillion. Now, House leaders intend to push the president’s agenda by the end of the month.

Biden, who visited the Hill to garner support for his plan, returned to the White House amid suggestions his social agenda’s price tag would likely come down by about $2 trillion.



But, no worries. If you listened to the president over the weekend, the plan is still on. Because, as he put it: “Biden is going to work like hell to make sure we get both of these passed, and I think we will get them passed.”

“There’s an awful lot that’s in both of these [Build Back Better] bills that everybody thinks they know, but they don’t know what’s in them,” the president told reporters at the White House on Oct. 2. “When you go out and you test each of the individual elements in the bill, everyone is for them — not everyone; over 70% of the American people are for them.”

“My objective here is to make sure we put in place the things that are going to make life more livable for ordinary people. I mean that sincerely,” the president added, noting Congress might seem messy but he’s seen this movie before.

“I was a senator a long time. I know how legislation gets done. There is no reason why both these bills couldn’t pass independently except that there are not the votes to do it that way.”

He affirmed, for emphasis: “I support both of them, and I think we can get them both done.”



Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the senator at the center of it all, echoed the optimism. Since the start of the Biden administration, Sanders has championed a robust, multitrillion-dollar update of the country’s social safety net and myriad infrastructure programs that respond to climate change. He told Jonathan Karl on ABC News’ “This Week” that Congress will pass both bills: “We have the American people very, very strongly on our side. We’ve got the president of the United States on our side. Got 96% of the members of the Democratic caucus in the House on our side. We got all but two senators at this point in the Democratic caucus on our side. We’re going to win this thing.”

Still, nearly a dozen House moderates are pushing back on linking the infrastructure and budget bills. And the two Democratic senators Sanders alluded to — Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin — continue to argue for a budget bill nowhere near $3.5 trillion.

With a need to raise the debt ceiling by mid-October, passing a long-term highway bill by the end of the month, and approving a fiscal 2022 government funding package in early December — not to mention the Build Back Better plan — what do Republican leaders make of all this?

“We’ve given Democrats a step-by-step guide to governing in this environment and months of advance notice to get it done. The conclusion to draw from this week is very clear: Clumsy efforts at partisan jams do not work,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The Week Ahead (all times EDT)

Oct. 6, 10 a.m.: Senate Commerce Committee meets for a hearing titled, “Enhancing Data Security.” Witnesses include Edward Felten, Robert E. Kahn professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs at Princeton University. (Watch live)

Oct. 6, 10 a.m.: Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meets for a hearing examining the response by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to Hurricane Ida. (More info)

Oct. 6, 11 a.m.: The House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee meets for a hearing titled, “Emerging Contaminants, Forever Chemicals, and More: Challenges to Water Quality, Public Health and Communities.” (Watch live)

Freight Corridor

An infrastructure deal explainer.

Legislative Docket

Funding authority for the country’s highway networks remains active as a result of Biden signing an extension of a law central to federal surface transportation policies. The president signed the short-term measure Oct. 2, enacting an authorizing extension of highway programs through Oct. 31. Congress allowed the authority of the 2015 highway law, known as the FAST Act, to expire Sept. 30. A multiyear highway policy bill that is tucked into a Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure measure has yet to advance in the Democratic-led U.S. House.


Who knew federal infrastructure policy could be funny? Well, “Saturday Night Live,” that’s who. During its season premiere, SNL’s “Weekend Update” (Colin Jost) tackled Congress’ will-they-won’t-they vote drama.

Favorite Video

Progressives press their case.

Favorite Tweet

The view from the GOP.

Last Word

Increasing the durability of our transportation network is key to lowering long-term maintenance costs and reducing environmental impacts.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Oct. 1


We publish weekly when Congress is in session. E-mail emulero@ttnews.com with tips. Follow us @eugenemulero and @transporttopics.

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