The Bipartisan ‘Hard’ Infrastructure Bill Has Passed. Next Up: Democrats Invest in ‘Human’ Infrastructure

Updated Wednesday, August 11 at 11:10 a.m. PT.

To ensure passage of both the bipartisan and human infrastructure bills, House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said the House will only vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill after the Senate approves the additional reconciliation bill. (Instagram)

After months of negotiations. the Senate passed on Tuesday a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, including $550 billion in new spending—an effort to reinvest in ‘hard’ infrastructure like bridges, roads and public transit; modernize the nation’s power grid; expand access to broadband internet; reconnect communities of color divided by large highways; upgrade the U.S. drinking water infrastructure, notably eliminating lead pipes; and fight climate change. The bipartisan bill passed by a vote of 69–30, with 19 Republicans joining 50 Democrats.

But for Democrats in both the Senate and House, the bipartisan bill—focused on so-called “traditional” infrastructure—is just the first step in their and Biden’s ambitious Build Back Better for Working Families Plan

Next up is Democrats’ $3.5 trillion package, which moves beyond traditional infrastructure like bridges and roads to invest in “human” infrastructure, including universal pre-K and extensions to the child tax credit, free community college, expanded in-home caregiving for the disabled and elderly, further mitigating threats posed by climate change, lowering child care, health care and prescription drug costs, and reducing taxes on middle and working-class families.

In an overnight vote early Wednesday morning, all 50 Senate Democrats overcame 49 Republican votes to move the budget resolution forward, a crucial first step. Leaders in the House say the body will cut its summer recess short, returning the week of Aug. 23, to pass the budget measure.

“Human infrastructure is intertwined with our physical infrastructure,” said Biden, who plans to pay for the package by raising the corporate income tax rate from 21 to 28 percent.

Members of Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill through the traditional Senate rules, which require at least 60 votes to proceed to debate on a measure. But the human infrastructure measure will need to be passed through a Senate process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority. All 50 Senate Democrats must vote to support the human infrastructure package to circumvent Republican obstruction. With an evenly divided Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris will be able to cast the tie-breaking vote if necessary.

Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the package “the most significant legislation to expand, support and help American families since the New Deal … this is generational, transformational change to help American families who need the help in this rapidly changing world.”

Without Human Infrastructure, Women Remain Unsupported 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 5 million women have left the workforce, women-dominated industries were economically hit the hardest by the pandemic, and experts predict employment for women may not recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2024. On top of job loss, women have undertaken heightened loads of unpaid labor during the pandemic. Child care responsibilities increased as a result of COVID-related school and child care center closures and remote work led to nearly 70 percent of mothers reporting adverse health impacts. 

“I think that divide of jobs then families suggests that these things are in tension—when, in fact, if we want to have a strong, stable economy, then we need to make sure that families can go to work,” said Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.).

And ensuring families get back to work means ensuring women get back to work.

On top of job loss, women have undertaken heightened loads of unpaid labor during the pandemic. Child care loads from COVID-related school closures and remote work led to nearly 70 percent of mothers reporting adverse health impacts, and 78 percent of new moms reporting increased stress levels.

At the same time, the demand for in-home formal and informal care work has skyrocketed due to COVID; women comprise 85 percent of home health workers and 93 percent of child care workers. With woefully inadequate pay, women care workers—a group comprised largely of people of color and immigrants—are two and half times more likely to live in poverty than their male counterparts. The human infrastructure investments will ensure stable, well-paying jobs for home health care, child care workers and pre-K teachers.

Widespread Bipartisan Support

Despite Republican obstructionism, multiple provisions in the proposed human infrastructure plan enjoy widespread support among Americans:

  • 60 percent of Americans support expanding the child tax credit.
  • 90 percent support expanding middle-class tax cuts for middle and lower-class families.
  • Plans for health care infrastructure are supported by 81 percent of Americans—including 77 percent of Republicans—who believe Medicare should be allowed to negotiate prescription drug prices to lower costs. 
  • 83 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Independents and 42 percent of Republicans support universal preschool education.
  • 60 percent of Americans support investments in clean energy outlined in the human infrastructure bill.

To ensure passage the human infrastructure bill, House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that the House will only vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill after the Senate approves the additional reconciliation bill.

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Lily Sendroff is an editorial fellow at Ms. and a rising senior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She majors in the study of women and gender and government, with a concentrative subfield in comparative politics. Her work typically focuses on feminist economics, transnational feminism, and policy analysis.