Many of the promises President Joe Biden made on the campaign trail and early in his presidency — to slash rising greenhouse gas emissions and prepare America’s aging infrastructure for a changed climate — were missing from his announcement Thursday that 21 senators had reached a bipartisan $973 billion infrastructure deal.
“It is in no way, shape, or form a substitute for a comprehensive climate bill,” Leah Stokes, a UC Santa Barbara political scientist and adviser to the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action, told Vox. On its own, “it could even have some emissions increases, potentially.”
But Stokes added that the infrastructure deal should not be considered on its own, because Democrats have a plan for passing more ambitious climate action.
Facing Republican opposition, the slim Democratic majority in Congress is pursuing its climate agenda on two tracks. Now that they have an initial bipartisan deal, they will try the once-obscure parliamentary procedure known as reconciliation, which allows Congress to pass budget-related matters through a simple Senate majority — which Democrats have. Top Democrats, from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to President Biden, say there will be no infrastructure package without a reconciliation bill that includes many of their priorities that were left out of the Senate deal, including those dealing with climate change.
Getting both done will be tricky — already some Republicans who had signed on to the bipartisan deal are backing away from it after Biden announced the two-pronged approach, and Democrats will face tense internal debates about how big the reconciliation bill should be.
The compromise announced Thursday included a scaled-down version of Biden’s original $2 trillion American Jobs Plan. A large portion of the bipartisan deal, $109 billion, injects funding into repairing and building roads, bridges, and other major projects. There’s $66 billion set aside for passenger and freight rail, $49 billion for public transit, and $55 billion for water infrastructure. Climate actions to lower emissions are among the least ambitious parts of this deal.
While it’s not clear which climate policies are on the table now, what’s missing from the infrastructure deal tells us a great deal about what could be coming next. And it’s possible to identify top Democratic priorities by looking closely at everything that dropped out of Biden’s original American Jobs Plan.