What the bipartisan infrastructure bill will spend in Iowa

The state of Iowa will receive approximately $5 billion from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill headed to President Joe Biden’s desk, according to calculations published by U.S. Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03). Axne, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s Congressional delegation, was among the 215 Democrats and thirteen Republicans who approved the bill late in the evening on November 5. (Procedural matters earlier in the day led to the two longest votes in U.S. House history.)

Iowa’s three Republicans in the chamber—Representatives Ashley Hinson (IA-01), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), and Randy Feenstra (IA-04)—opposed the infrastructure legislation.

When the Senate approved the same bill in August, Iowa’s Republicans landed on opposite sides, with Senator Chuck Grassley supporting the infrastructure package and Senator Joni Ernst voting against it.

HOW FUNDS WILL BE SPENT IN IOWA

The bill involves about $550 billion in spending not previously approved by Congress. Axne’s news release estimated Iowa’s share of several large pieces. Our state stands to receive:

  • $3.4 billion in highway funds and $432 million for bridge replacement and repairs (out of a total $110 billion for roads and bridges)
  • $638 million for water infrastructure (out of $55 billion nationally)
  • $305 million for public transportation (the bill’s $39 billion for mass transit is the largest ever federal investment in this area)
  • $120 million for airports (out of $25 billion)
  • at least $100 million for broadband internet (out of $65 billion)

The bill also includes $12.5 billion for electric vehicles (including a nationwide network of charging stations), $17 billion for ports and waterways, $73 billion for power grid improvements and clean energy, and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail.

AXNE’S COMMITTED TO HUMAN INFRASTRUCTURE BILL

In a written statement hailing passage of the bill, Axne made clear she’s not satisfied with this spending alone.

“With this bill, we’re securing the investments we need to expand internet access, reduce supply chain disruptions, and keep our communities safe – all without raising taxes on middle class Iowans,” said Rep. Axne. “This bipartisan infrastructure package, which I look forward to seeing signed into law very soon, will support thousands of Iowa jobs and fund vital investments that I’ve fought to see included in our agenda this year — like the largest investment in rural broadband connectivity in history. This bill will also provide an important extension of programs and new investments that will bring more than $5 billion to Iowa for modernization of our roads, bridges, airports, and public transportation systems. And, as we have promised from the first days of this new Administration, these investments are made without raising taxes on middle class families or passing large amounts of debt on to our children’s generation.”

“To be clear: while this bill moves to the President’s desk to become law, I believe that our work is not over,” Rep. Axne added. “I came to Congress to find solutions on a range of issues that are facing our middle class families – and investments in priorities like child care, biofuels, affordable prescription drugs, housing, education, and sustainable agriculture are still on my to-do list. That’s why I will continue to push my colleagues to continue moving forward on the Build Back Better Act and get this complementary bill signed into law.”

Axne noted that the bipartisan bill “is projected by Moody’s Analytics to create more than 770,000 jobs by 2025,” and if combined with the second bill “will create more than 2.4 million jobs in the same amount of time.”

I supported the House Progressive Caucus withholding support on the bipartisan infrastructure bill over the past two months, waiting for an ironclad agreement on the Build Back Better Act. I’m concerned that by passing the first bill now, progressives have set the stage for conservative Democrats in the House and Senate to tank the larger spending bill, which will be passed through the budget reconciliation process. It’s already been slashed from $3.5 trillion in investments, which would have been fully paid for through tax increases, to $1.75 trillion with many important programs missing.

That said, Representative Pramila Jayapal, who leads the House Progressive Caucus, has managed these negotiations well and sounds confident the reconciliation bill will go through. She has more information than what is publicly available and reportedly received individual commitments from each of the House Democrats who had threatened to block the Build Back Better Act. I hope Jayapal doesn’t get double-crossed.

REPUBLICANS QUIET ABOUT VOTING AGAINST INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING

I didn’t see any public statements from Hinson, Miller-Meeks, or Feenstra explaining why they voted against spending billions to improve Iowa infrastructure. Please let me know if you catch any of them taking credit for projects in their districts that would not have been possible without the federal funding they opposed. Our state has long been among the worst in the country for structurally deficient bridges.

Hinson spoke on the House floor on November 5 and later released a statement emphasizing her opposition to the larger reconciliation bill. Excerpts:

Iowans deserve to know how much of their hard-earned paychecks are going to be wasted on frivolous, misguided priorities like funding for butterflies or desert fish, when my constituents are busy trying to put food on their tables, provide for their kids, and keep their family farms operating.

“But no, we can’t even get the most basic information – we don’t have an official cost estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. […]

We are spending approximately trillions of taxpayer dollars on nonsense priorities when Iowans are dealing with real challenges, and we can’t even give them the respect of waiting for a proper cost estimate?

I don’t call child care support, universal pre-school, child tax credits, affordable housing, or clean energy “frivolous, misguided priorities.” The child tax credit alone has lifted an estimated 3 million American children out of poverty and helped millions more parents “put food on their tables.” Democrats should be pushing to make that policy permanent rather than extending it for only one year.

State Senator Liz Mathis, the likely Democratic nominee in Iowa’s new second Congressional district, and State Representative Christina Bohannan, the likely nominee in the first district, both tweeted in support of the infrastructure bill, noting that Hinson and Miller-Meeks had voted against it.

UPDATE: During a July 2021 appearance on KWWL-TV’s “The Steele Report,” Ron Steele asked Hinson where she stands on the “massive” infrastructure bill, which (in his words), “has to be done.” My transcript of Hinson’s response, beginning around 12:55 on this video.

Well I think, Ron, with any bill that focuses on infrastructure, we need to focus on real, hard infrastructure, which is our roads and bridges, our locks and dams, our broadband. So that’s what I’ve been focused on. That’s what I heard when I did my three town halls in person in the district, took those questions from constituents and heard that they want focused, targeted investments in real infrastructure.

So that’s what I’m trying to advocate for in those conversations. I’m excited to hear that there is a potential bipartisan deal, but again, very wary of the price tag.

I just want to make sure that these bills are not full of fluff and free stuff, and they’re full of, again, targeted investments that deliver for Iowans. So, that’s what we’re focused on in the infrastructure conversation.

LATER UPDATE: Miller-Meeks’ staff didn’t post any news release about this bill on her official website, but Thomas Geyer of the Quad-City Times quoted from a release that some media received on November 5.

“I have been calling for a fully funded bipartisan bill that would improve our bridges, roads, broadband, locks, dams, broadband and electric grid,” Miller-Meeks said Friday in a news release.

“I will not support a bill that is directly tied to a multi-trillion dollar reckless tax-and-spend package that increases inflation and had no Republican input, even though Congress is evenly divided,” she said.

“We could have passed a clean infrastructure package already on a bipartisan basis like the Senate did and found reasonable ways to pay for it,” Miller-Meeks said.

Miller-Meeks was either unaware or hoping her constituents wouldn’t notice that the bill she just voted against is the bipartisan bill already approved by the Senate.

Miller-Meeks’ deputy chief of staff Austin Harris responded to me on Twitter that the bipartisan infrastructure bill “was linked with” the Build Back Better Act. That was true until a few days ago, when the bills were delinked. There is no guarantee the reconciliation bill will pass in any form now.

LATER UPDATE: Hinson finally released a statement on the bill on November 8.

Hinson Statement on Infrastructure Package: “Washington Gamesmanship, Spending at Its Worst”

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Ashley Hinson (IA-01) released the below statement on the infrastructure package.

Too often in Washington, the potential for important, bipartisan policy is torpedoed by partisan politics. The need to make meaningful investments in our nation’s real infrastructure—roads and bridges, locks and dams, and broadband—was sacrificed to advance a partisan, socialist spending spree.

I have talked to countless Iowans about infrastructure, and I believe folks in our state would support targeted investments to improve the roads we drive on every day, the bridges our farmers haul grain across, the waterways our economy depends on, and broadband that is desperately needed in rural communities. I also believe there would have been wide, bipartisan support in Congress for a package that responsibly invested in infrastructure and respected taxpayers.

Instead, we got the $1.2 trillion (and 2,700 page) “bipartisan infrastructure bill” tacked onto the multi-trillion budget reconciliation package–all amid an inflation crisis caused by massive overspending in the first place.

Many Iowans have asked me what is in the $1.2 trillion, 2,700 page bill—where would their tax dollars be going? Of the $1.2 trillion dollars, $650 billion of it reauthorizes existing spending for surface transportation infrastructure, primarily roads and bridges. This is funding that Congress typically re-ups, in a bipartisan manner, to meet our transportation needs. On its own, I believe Iowans would support this plan, and I would too.

But the legislation we are considering also calls for $550 billion in new spending. Let me level with you, I think most Iowans would support reasonable spending on real, physical infrastructure.  However, I believe this bill adds too much additional spending for items aside from the physical infrastructure Iowans care most about, without fully paying for them.

For example, the Northeast Corridor Amtrak receives $6 billion in grants and another $24 billion carve-out in the Federal-State Partnership Program. That’s $30 billion going to the Northeast Amtrak line, fifteen times the amount of money set aside for broadband programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture in this bill. 

Let’s talk about what isn’t in the bill: necessary investments in Iowa’s biofuel industry. During the infrastructure negotiations, I joined my fellow Iowans in Washington to call on the Administration to prioritize our biofuel industry in the infrastructure package. After all, President Biden made a campaign promise that he would support the ethanol industry and Iowa producers. Instead of following through on that promise, the bill makes unprecedented and unnecessary taxpayer investments in electric vehicles. The President needs to be held accountable for his broken promise to our biofuel and ethanol producers he is leaving in the dust. I could not support legislation that blatantly disregarded the needs of our biofuel industry to the benefit of coastal elites who “need” a charging station for their electric vehicle.

We can’t talk about the “bipartisan infrastructure bill” without talking about how Speaker Pelosi, to appease Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s squad, held this process, and any potential bipartisan compromise, hostage. When President Biden gave Senator Bernie Sanders the lead on drafting the budget, he predictably wrote the multi-trillion dollar tax and spending spree that puts government in charge of every aspect of our lives and livelihoods from cradle to grave. It’s the biggest leap toward socialism this nation has ever seen – it takes the Marxist ideology that once only existed in textbooks and makes it law in the United States of America. Even some Democrats have sounded the alarm on this socialist spending as our economy drags and working families are grappling with record inflation, threatening the legislation’s path to become law. The only bipartisan aspect of this mammoth bill is the opposition to it. But Speaker Pelosi could not afford any defectors in the House, and since she controls what comes up for a vote, she dictated that the House would only consider an infrastructure package if trillions in new, socialist spending also passed.

That’s not how you govern. That’s not how you get things done for the American people. You do not create a legislative ultimatum by tossing trillions of hardworking Americans’ money up in the air like Monopoly money. That’s Washington gamesmanship at its absolute worst and the very definition of chaos and dysfunction that Iowans sent me here to fight against.

Amid this chaos, I’ve been working to bring taxpayer dollars back home for infrastructure projects in our district. My top priority has been to find ways, even in the minority, to reinvest tax dollars in Iowa to make a positive impact in your everyday life. And I’m proud to say that we’ve been successful. I delivered federal funding for Lock & Dam No. 10 in Guttenberg, Iowa, to ensure our agriculture producers can get their products to market. As a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I successfully advocated to advance Community Project Funding for key infrastructure projects in our district like building roads, improving airports, and upgrading our lock and dam system along the Mississippi River.

I strongly support targeted investments in real infrastructure that will improve Iowans’ daily lives and keep our economy moving; but I strongly oppose going down Speaker Pelosi’s road to wasteful spending and tax hikes.

As Todd Dorman commented in the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

Hinson didn’t like what was missing from the infrastructure bill, including “necessary investments in Iowa’s biofuel industry.” Since when is biofuels processing “real” infrastructure? […]

Hinson talks a lot about the need for flood control. The infrastructure bill includes $50 billion to help communities become more resilient in the face of climate change, including flood protection. Consider that next time she visits the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids for a photo op.

Hinson and Miller-Meeks should have voted for the infrastructure bill. It’s popular, bipartisan and makes needed investments in Iowa. Instead, they decided to make a political calculation that would keep them in good standing in the Trump GOP. Denying Democrats a win was more important than delivering for their districts. It’s sad, but hardly surprising.

Top photo of construction on the Interstate 74 bridge over the Mississippi River first published on October 29 on the I-74 River Bridge Facebook page, maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

  • "Frivolous"???

    This country, and Iowa in particular, desperately need the kind of “soft” physical infrastructure that involves living systems and ecological health, not more concrete! We need that soft infrastructure partly to mitigate the bad impacts of all the concrete. And if we don’t face that reality and act on it, all hope for clean water is gone.

    In Iowa alone, we need to select and/or create, and then permanently protect, a couple million acres of ecologically-healthy native vegetation, largely taken out of current rowcrop production on marginal acres. And yes, that would help some butterflies and fish. Horrors. It would also greatly improve water quality, save topsoil, reduce flooding, help air quality, fight climate change, assist biodiversity, and provide outdoor recreation.

    It really is a severe national handicap that one of our major political parties is so extraordinarily ignorant about, and hostile to, environmental concerns.

    • To clarify...

      …of course we do need “hard” concrete infrastructure work on roads, bridges, etc. But we also need the kind of infrastructure that can only be provided by permanently-protected natural areas, the kind of “infrastructure” that provides New York City with clean water. New York City could have chosen to build expensive “hard” water treatment structures and machines.. Instead, NYC protected a forest, and has reaped multiple benefits ever since.

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