This country is long overdue for a massive update to its infrastructure. That has been the case long before former President Donald Trump's repeated "infrastructure week" made-for-TV events. Now it appears that President Joe Biden may finally succeed where previous administrations failed.
The key? Presidential focus and a relentlessly bipartisan approach that included opponents instead of leaving them — and their priorities — on the sidelines.
The heavily negotiated agreement by the Senate is for a $1 trillion bill that would go a long way toward addressing backlogs in everything from bridge repairs and climate to broadband and lead pipe replacement.
Now that it is on the verge of becoming a reality, nothing must be allowed to jeopardize it. Not the current food fight over several hundred amendments as individual senators jockey for their states to get a piece of the pie. And not the attempt by House Democratic leaders to hitch its fate to that of the much larger budget reconciliation bill.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who now heads the powerful Rules Committee, has toiled in support of major federal infrastructure improvements since 2007, her first year as senator.
"This is the culmination of a lot of work on both sides going back years," she said."This time, we are not going home till this gets done."
In addition to the actual improvements the bill would yield, she said, "this is a moment where we can prove that we can do good things by reaching across the aisle. It would be good for the country, good for the psyche, that we have different people from different parts of the country, in such a polarized time, working for the common good."
Minnesota would benefit greatly from its passage. Nationally, $40 billion would go to bridge repairs and upgrades. The White House has called it "the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system."
Then there's broadband, the lack of which has long hampered rural economic development. "We've never seen a federal investment of this order," Klobuchar said.
In Minnesota, 16% of households, including tribal lands, either lack broadband or workable baseline speeds, she said. Klobuchar said she recently met with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to get a commitment that ensures the broadband network "actually gets built out."
Port improvements would get $17 billion, including the port of Duluth, a vital hub for northern Minnesota. The federal government would step in to help lay down a network of electrical vehicle chargers and zero-emission buses, Klobuchar said. "We haven't upgraded the electrical grid in years, even after foreign hacking," she said. "This bill tackles all that."
Does it do everything? No. Even a trillion dollars is not enough to make up for decades of disinvestment, neglect and gridlock. Some items were left off as priorities were weighed against future costs. Others were simply too expansive.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier that "given how bipartisan the bill is, and how much work has already been put in to get the details right, I believe the Senate can quickly process relevant amendments and pass this bill in a matter of days,"
But a potentially formidable obstacle remains in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she does not intend to take up the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation bill.
That second bill, totaling $3.5 trillion, could be passed by a bare majority in the Senate. While Pelosi may be seeking additional leverage to ensure reconciliation's passage, the infrastructure bill is too important to the country to become just another pawn in a larger political game.