Biden hopes to turn infrastructure bill into jobs quickly

The Biden administration is racing to implement parts of the infrastructure bill as quickly as it can, hoping it can turn the legislation into jobs as it tries to make the case for the White House’s leadership on the economy.

President Biden has seen his approval ratings falter amid rising gas and food prices, and frustrations over goods shortages. On Wednesday, inflation hit its highest annual rate in 30 years.

Infrastructure bills can generally take months or even years to really turn into concrete constructions jobs, and some parts of the current bill will take significant time to implement. It’s unclear when or if the administration will win political points for the measure sent to Biden by the House on Friday.

But officials say that Americans will begin to see some impacts of the infrastructure bill in the coming months, particularly as they relate to projects funded through existing programs.

“At DOT, we’re already rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on the immediate and longer-term initiatives in the BID,” Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg said on Tuesday, using the acronym used by the administration for the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

The White House announced Tuesday, for example, that the Transportation Department plans to open competition for the first round of port infrastructure grants funded by the bill within 90 days, as part of a broader effort to ease supply chain bottlenecks slowing down the delivery of goods.

“I know there are countless numbers of shovel ready projects,” said Tom Perez, former Democratic National Committee chair who is running for governor of Maryland. “We need to make sure on the first infrastructure bill that we see tangible evidence of this bill as soon as possible. And I know the Biden administration has been preparing that, and I know states are very anxious to get these projects underway because there’s such a backlog.”

Bill Galston, chair of the Brookings Institution’s governance studies program and former domestic policy aide to former President Clinton, said it was important that Biden not “focus too much on the benefits that the bill will bring in the future and to focus instead on making sure that some of these benefits show up now or as close to now as possible.”

“I don’t think the American people are in a very trusting mood right now. Showing them rather than telling them will be much more persuasive,” Galston said.

Over the past week, the administration has mounted a concerted effort to both tout concrete aspects of the bill and discuss its implementation. 

Biden has told audiences that the infrastructure bill will create “millions of jobs” and help ease inflationary pressures by improving links in the supply chain, like funding upgrades to U.S. ports. 

“Not only will we see more record-breaking job growth, we’ll see lower prices, faster deliveries as well. This work is going to be critical as we implement the infrastructure bill, as we continue to build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out by passing the Build Back Better plan,” the president said at the Port of Baltimore on Wednesday.

The bill’s implementation will be front and center when Biden convenes his third Cabinet meeting since taking office on Friday. 

Administration officials have been laying the groundwork for implementing the bill, which Biden will sign at the White House on Monday, for several weeks. The package passed the Senate in August, which allowed for some agencies to start planning for implementation.

“We are hard at work planning. When the BID passed the Senate, we really began planning in earnest, thinking very broadly,” Radhika Fox, Environmental Protection Agency assistant administrator for water, said this week.

At the same time, officials are facing a momentous challenge and acknowledge that some of the initiatives, particularly those that involve standing up entirely new programs, will take time. 

The infrastructure bill represents an infusion of $550 billion in new spending, much of it over five years. The responsibilities cut across multiple federal agencies, which will need to work with the private sector and state and local governments.

“Unlike consumer spending or consumption, investment is a longer-term prospect. It’s not something that happens overnight. Investment means we are putting money in things that will have an impact overtime,” said Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, a senior resident fellow at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way and former Commerce Department economist under former President Obama.

At the Energy Department alone, the infrastructure bill funds 60 new programs and expands funding for a dozen more. Congress has set deadlines for agencies to stand up specific programs or report back on progress. For instance, lawmakers directed the Energy Department to stand up a $6 billion civilian nuclear credit program within 120 days of the bill’s signing. 

The Commerce Department will be responsible for managing $45 billion allocated for an expansion of broadband, with an eye toward rural and minority communities. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said that the agency would work with state and local governments, community-based organizations and the private sector to put together a grant program with the goal of giving every American access to affordable broadband. 

“I think every community will see activity and action. Some communities will start to see, you know, people working laying fiber,” Raimondo told reporters Tuesday when asked about progress Americans would see by next year’s midterm elections. “But I also think it’s important to be realistic, and you have to be honest with people, which is to say we want to get this right. You know, it’s more important to get it right than to rush.”

“I think people will see their state putting together a plan. They’ll see us starting to move out on that plan. But, you know, not everybody is going to have broadband a year from now,” she added.

The Transportation and Energy Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency are all preparing to grow their staff to manage new funds and programs. The Commerce Department also said it’s already laid plans to add to its workforce.

“We have been planning for this and looking and already addressing staffing needs so we are prepared to hit the ground running once the legislation is signed,” a senior Commerce Department official told reporters on Wednesday.

Brett Samuels contributed reporting.

Tags Barack Obama Build Back Better Gina Raimondo Infrastructure Joe Biden Tom Perez
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