With infrastructure bill passed, Rep. Dingell optimistic about Biden social-spending plan, Rep. Tlaib calls it a "broken deal"
President Joe Biden calls it a “monumental step forward for the nation.” But the U.S. House vote to pass the more than $1-trillion infrastructure bill Friday put Washington’s political divisions on display, including some within Biden’s own party. Now, the President’s larger, Build Back Better social-spending bill remains up in the air.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI 12) spoke with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition to discuss both bills and how Michigan stands to benefit from them.
Infrastructure dollars for MI
The infrastructure bill, which Biden is expected to sign in the coming days, gives Michigan:
- $7.3 billion for road repairs
- $563 million for bridge replacement and repair
- $1 billion for public transportation improvements
- $1.3 billion for water infrastructure.
- $100 million for expanding high-speed internet access
- $110 million for electric vehicle charging infrastructure
Dingell said much of the money will first be distributed to various agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Education, and the Federal Communications Commission.
"Some of the money will be put out in grants from agencies and some of the money will go directly to the states. I was very clear after our flooding in June that money coming to the state wasn't a guarantee that we were going to get things done [and] that we needed to be ready to go after these dollars. We needed to make sure we had projects that were ready," Dingell said.
"I think it's very important that everybody at the federal, state and local level be working together now [and] that communities are ready to go after [these] dollars and implement those dollars. But those dollars should start to be in communities by the beginning of the year to get done what's got to get done."
Support from a Michigan Republican
U.S. Rep. Fred Uption (R-MI 6) was one of the 13 Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill. Dingell said she and Upton speak about "a dozen times a day" and she knew he would support the bill despite political pressure.
"Democrats got a message [on election night] that the American people are tired of bickering, period. They want action."Rep. Debbie Dingell
"One of the reasons this bill just was so difficult to get through is a reflection of the sort of anger in the country and the division in this country. And some of the Republican leadership didn't want people to vote for this bill because they didn't want to give Democrats a win," Dingell said.
"I'm tired of labels. We're Americans, and we need to be doing what's right for our states and our country. Fred wanted to do what was right for the state, and ... there are going to be people that give him grief for wanting to fix our roads, get the let out of water pipes, for wanting to get internet into urban and rural areas."
Democrats not entirely united
While the infrastructure bill got some Republican support, U.S. Rep. Rashia Tlaib (D-MI 13) was one of the six Democrats who voted against it. That group wanted more assurances about also passing the Build Back Better legislation and its social safety net provisions.
Dingell said she expects less division over the social spending bill.
"I think Democrats got a message [on election night] that the American people are tired of bickering, period. They want action. The legislative process is about coming together. I don't think compromise is a dirty word. And I do believe that when we return the week of [Nov.] 15th, we will get the Build Back Better bill in order."
Dingell said she and Tlaib share a concern about getting enough funding between the two bills to replace all of the lead water pipes in Michigan. Dingell said an analysis has shown that project would require $1.65 billion total. The infrastructure bill includes $1.3 billion for water infrastructure, so Dingell said she and Tlaib are both pushing to have an additional $350 million in the Build Back Better legislation.
Initially, Biden proposed a $3.5-trillion social spending bill. In the haggling on Capitol hill since then, the bill, although still massive, has gotten much smaller. Dingell expects the final number to be closer to $1.75 trillion.
"I talked to a number of members over the weekend," Dingell said. "Those that have had concerns have indicated that when they see these numbers, they intend to vote for this bill. I've talked to Rashida Tlaib and Rashida has told me she will vote for Build Back Better."
Dingell said in addition to replacing lead water pipes, she wants the legislation to include more funding for electric vehicle charging stations to help Michigan automakers reach a target of electric vehicle sales representing half of all sales by 2030. She also wants dollars directed at climate resiliency to help Michigan head off future flooding.
Child tax credit's future
The expansion of the child tax credit put into place as part of earlier COVID-19 relief runs through next year. Some have pushed for it to become permanent, but Dingell does not see that happening in the Build Back Better plan.
"It will go for another year. And then [U.S. senators] Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema want us to evaluate it, to see if it has made a difference," she said. "So, that is what we will do. And if people feel that it's making a difference, it's helping our children, it's something we should do, and it will have to be reauthorized."
Beyond these two bills
With mid-term elections in 2022, some observers have questioned whether the Biden administration will be able to get movement on any other major legislation after these two bills.
Dingell believes it's possible and said she has spoken to Biden and Congressional leaders about her own top priority: paying for the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act (CHIPS).
"If you're in the state of Michigan, if you're an auto industry executive, or a UAW worker or you're a customer trying to buy a car, we're seeing the impact of a shortage of chips in this country. We, last year, authorized the CHIPS act in the defense authorization bill, but we have not funded it," she said. "It's something we must do. And there are a lot of other bills that are like that for us in Michigan, fixing the supply-chain issue."
Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.
Rep. Tlaib says infrastructure bill without Build Back Better is broken deal
On the other side, there were a handful of Democrats who voted against the infrastructure package. It was out of protest for the exclusion of the other half of the Biden Administration’s massive spending plan — that’s the Build Back Better bill that would address the everyday needs of families and issues created by climate change.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) was among those Democrats who voted against the infrastructure package and she joined Stateside Monday to discuss why.
Tlaib framed her vote against the infrastructure bill as a vote for Build Back Better, explaining that she sees the former as incomplete without the latter.
For some communities, including those she represents, “the infrastructure bill opened the doors for more pollution versus making sure that build back better helped address those. And that's why they belong together and they should have moved together,” she said.
"It forces these communities to choose between safe roads and bridges and clean air to breathe, and trading infrastructure dollars for cuts to environmental protection and more fossil fuel subsidies up to $25 billion isn't a deal my community should ever have to face,” she added.
She stressed that the deal was to move these bills together and says she was clear and consistent about her position as an advocate for her community’s needs and that her colleagues broke that deal by splitting the package, even with so much compromise.
“I've been so transparent and so incredibly open about representing the third poorest Congressional district," Tlaib said. "Everyone knows when they spoke to me, I said, ‘Look, if we can get $400 billion for the millionaires in Build Back Better, why can't we please give me $1.65 billion to remove every single lead service line in Michigan?' That's all I'm asking, is that my residents are treated the same way that many are treating those in a larger income bracket."
With all that said, Tlaib is not certain Build Back Better will pass with the leverage lost, but she’s still fighting for it.
“I'm not completely confident [that the social infrastructure half will pass]. I really believe that the deal was broken in moving both bills together, which now creates an uncertain future for Build Back Better," she said. “I kept my word and that I am going to support the Biden agenda. But it has to be the full Biden agenda, and then making sure we don't leave anyone behind.”
Tlaib also called attention to the fact that the infrastructure bill will raise the deficit — something for which Build Back Better was held to a higher standard. She noted that it was a matter of legislators’ priorities and what they’re hesitant to do policy-wise not necessarily money-wise.
“It's very disingenuous to say that you want a budget so-called ‘score’ and making sure it doesn't increase the deficit. The fact of the matter is the infrastructure bill that was passed on Friday night increases the deficit by $259 billion, and they were okay in voting for that," Tlaib said. "But when it comes to child care, paid leave, reducing prescription cost, to really addressing climate and so much more, [then] all of a sudden now they want to make sure that that score comes back. It's disingenuous, especially at the eleventh hour."
Stateside assistant producer Elizabeth Harlow compiled the interview with Tlaib.
You can hear the full Stateside conversation in the audio file above.