Historic 'Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act' Passes Final Hurdle in Congress, Heads to Biden for Signature

Months after the Senate voted to approve the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in a historic moment of bipartisan legislation, the House of Representatives put the finishing touches on a $1.2 trillion bill with $550 million in new spending.

7 minute read

November 8, 2021, 11:30 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

A close up image of the exterior of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda illuminated at dusk.

Orhan Cam / Shutterstock

You might have heard over the weekend that the House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, but you probably still have questions about what that all means. The word infrastructure has been connected to multiple bills over months (years, really) of political back and forth, so it's hard to tell what's progress and what's a setback.

One fact is much more apparent than at any point since the Trump administration took office: Congress has finally approved a massive infrastructure spending bill—the only detail remaining for this historic legislation is the president's signature. Despite that new certainty, the media is likely to spend weeks and months figuring out the extent of what the news means for the country.

A relatively recent history informs an understanding of the scale of the achievement, and its potential consequences. Infrastructure planning and spending in the United States to this day occurs in the shadow cast by the economic stimulus programs of the Great Recession during the Obama administration—most notably with the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA). ARRA is frequently credited with leading the country from the largest recession since the Great Depression—infusing more than $830 billion into transportation, water and sewers, government buildings, energy, and other "traditional" forms of infrastructure. But ARRA also faced criticism from both sides of the political aisle. Complaints include achieving less economic benefit than possible because of the bill's focus on "shovel ready" projects, doubling down on the carbon economy and missing a chance to shift the country's infrastructure investments to a more economically sustainable and environmentally friendly model, and for delivering, in effect, a welfare bill rather than an economic stimulus.

Then came the Trump administration, which campaigned on a pledge to pass an enormous infrastructure spending bill—first promising a $500 billion plan before expanding the scale of that promise to spend $1 trillion without actually spending any money. The promises of the Trump administration, including numerous announcements of "Infrastructure Week" reduced the administration's ambitions to a punchline. When plans did show up, the president's own party did most of the damage to the cause, like in winter 2018 and again in spring 2019.

When the Biden administration's infrastructure ambitions repeatedly stalled—despite the political majority and the economic crisis seemingly required to propel a large spending package across the finish line—it smacked of "Infrastructure Week" all over again. The bill changed names, moved from House to Senate back to the House again, and got caught in the coattails of a large budget reconciliation bill that includes a huge investment in the social safety net. At this point, it's fair to wonder about the actual size of the final product; its relationship to earlier iterations, shorthands, and critical legislation included in the package (e.g., the American Jobs Act, Build Back Better, the INVEST in America Act, the Moving Forward Act, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework to name a few); and how it compares to the original scope of the Biden administration's economic stimulus plans.

So let's start shining a light on the various corners of this historic shift in federal infrastructure spending. The final bill, authored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), is titled H.R. 3684: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. With more political purposes in mind, the White House Twitter account referred to the bill as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal when announcing the bill's final approval in the House. The White House also published a Fact Sheet with more details on the final scope of the bill that split the difference and calls it the "Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act)."

The focus of the Biden administration's communications seems to respond to some of the criticism of ARRA by focusing on the historic level of funding for programs that aren't merely new road building programs (although the amount of funding potentially available for new roads is still substantial). The Fact Sheet lists $89.9 billion in guaranteed funding for public transit over the next five years and $110 billion in additional funding to repair roads and bridges and "support major, transformational projects." The Fact Sheet also calls attention to investments in clean drinking water, high-speed Internet, airports, passenger rail, clean energy and energy efficiency projects, a national network of electric vehicle chargers, climate resilience, and Superfund and brownfield cleanup.

In more detail about the bill's potential to shift the nation's tradition of auto-centric transportation investments, the Fact Sheet touts the "single largest investment in repairing and reconstructing our nation’s bridges since the construction of the interstate highway system," the creation of the "first ever Safe Streets and Roads for All program to support projects to reduce traffic fatalities," "the largest investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak," and "the largest Federal investment in public transit in history." 

A few other key facts of note:

  • The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes $550 billion in new spending as a portion of the larger $1 trillion figure cited in many headlines and articles about the final version of the bill. 
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill will add  $256 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years.
  • The final version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is significantly smaller than the original Biden administration infrastructure proposal: $2.25 trillion for what was then called the American Jobs Plan.
  • Approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Transportation Act includes approval of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021—the closely watched five-year legislative process sometimes referred to as the federal "Highway Bill."
  • The INVEST in America Act, which would have enacted new controls on highways spending at the state level, was not considered as part of the version of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by the U.S. Senate in August, and is thus not included in the final, approved version.
  • The social programs included in the Build Back Better Act are not included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as once seemed possible as part of a comprehensive budget reconciliation bill. Build Back Better is expected for a vote later this month.

To allow further digging into the details of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Planetizen gathered all the news and commentary reported by the media so far (the House passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at the least opportune time: in the final minutes of a Friday evening, so we can expect more news, commentary, and analysis throughout the week) for additional reading and deep dives into the moment. Planetizen will continue its coverage moving forward, so keep checking back with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act tag and keep your eyes peeled news about the forthcoming Build Back Better showdown.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Explained

Special Interests

Politics and What's Next

James Brasuell

James Brasuell is a writer and editor, producing web, print, and video content on the subjects of planning, urbanism, and mobility. James has managed all editorial content and direction for Planetizen since 2014 and was promoted to editorial director in 2021. After a first career as a class five white water river guide in Trinity County in Northern California, James started his career in Los Angeles as a volunteer at a risk reduction center in Skid Row.

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