President Joe Biden promised Americans that his new infrastructure law will improve their lives and keep the U.S. economy moving forward, even as polls show widespread discontent with the nation’s trajectory.
The president signed the $550 billion measure at a White House ceremony today, after appointing a group of officials led by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and the new White House infrastructure coordinator, Mitch Landrieu, to guide the law’s enactment.
“My message to the American people is: America is moving again. And your life is going to change for the better,” Biden said at the ceremony. “We made our democracy deliver for the people.”
The panel to oversee the law, established by an executive order Biden signed earlier today, will be directed to disperse the money in alignment with administration priorities, according to the White House. That means projects at the front of the line will need to use U.S. suppliers, offer union jobs and be designed to withstand the impacts of climate change.
The task force is also charged with making sure projects comply with the administration’s “Justice40” initiative, which calls for at least 40% of federal investments to flow to “disadvantaged communities.” Biden is also asking the panel to coordinate with state, local and tribal governments and avoid waste.
The signing of the infrastructure bill comes at a precarious moment for Biden, politically. Recent polls show Americans feel pessimistic about the state of the U.S. economy and Biden’s handling of it, particularly inflation.
Rising prices for everything from energy to food, housing, medical care, recreation, household furnishing and used cars and trucks is contributing to Americans’ sense that the economy is not moving in the right direction, despite falling unemployment and rising wages.
“I know you’re tired of the bickering in Washington, frustrated by the negativity, and you just want us to focus on your needs, your concerns and the conversations are taking place at your kitchen table,” Biden said.
“My fellow Americans, today I want you to know we hear you, and we see you. The bill I’m about to sign is proof that despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results.”
Biden signed the infrastructure bill at an elaborate outdoor ceremony this afternoon at the White House, with participants including federal lawmakers and governors of both political parties, as well as union and business leaders. They included several Senate Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Rob Portman of Ohio — who played a central role in negotiating the package.
In remarks at the White House, Portman credited McConnell for supporting bipartisan negotiations that led to the bill and urged Biden to more often involve Republicans in policy-making.
“The increasing polarization of our country is keeping us from getting things done. And we have a responsibility to do better,” he said. “I think we can both agree that this infrastructure investment shouldn’t be a one-time bipartisan accomplishment.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who has come under fire from former President Donald Trump after voting for the legislation, told Kentucky radio station WHAS last week he had “other things I’ve got to do” and would not attend.
A Washington Post-ABC poll released over the weekend showed 70% of Americans view the economy negatively, with roughly half of Americans and political independents blaming the president for rising prices.
Amid this backdrop of pessimism, the Biden White House seeks to sell Americans on the necessity of the infrastructure legislation and its new spending on road and bridges, ports and airports, drinking water, broadband access and electric charging stations across the country. Biden will kick off this sales pitch in earnest this week, with trips to New Hampshire on Tuesday and Michigan on Wednesday to promote different parts of the law.
“This will be a nationwide effort, the likes of which we have not seen in a generation,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at the ceremony. “It will make our country more competitive, and it will deliver on our nation’s and our administration’s commitment to equity.”
Deese said on MSNBC today that the signing of the bill was history-making and that the new spending would not add to inflation.
Biden’s priorities for the law, and how they’re interpreted by the new task force he’s appointing, are likely to dictate which projects receive funding — particularly competitive grant projects where state and local governments bid for federal money for significant one-time programs.
Overall, the legislation allocates around $110 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for rail, and $39 billion for public transit. Another $65 billion is earmarked for connecting Americans to high speed internet, while $65 billion will go to the power grid and $55 billion will be spent on drinking-water systems.
In addition to Deese and Landrieu, who are co-chairing the group, the panel is expected to include seven cabinet-level officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. The White House’s budget office, domestic policy council, and climate policy office will also be involved.
Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, was named to his post over the weekend. Biden told his cabinet on Friday that “we all have to make sure this money is used wisely, used well, and used to the stated purposes for the American people.”