PolitifactNC

Fact check: How much of infrastructure bill is 'actual infrastructure?'

Posted November 9, 2021 4:22 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2021 5:09 p.m. EST

In a long-awaited vote, the House on Nov. 5 approved an infrastructure bill crafted by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and supported by President Joe Biden. The measure, which includes more than $500 billion in new spending plus additional money from reallocated funds, has already passed the Senate and now heads to Biden’s desk for his signature.

When the House voted, six progressive Democrats opposed it, which would have been enough to tank the bill had 13 Republicans not crossed party lines to vote with most Democrats. (In the earlier Senate vote, 19 Republicans joined all of the chamber’s Democrats in supporting the bill.)

One Republican who voted against the infrastructure bill was freshman Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Mich. She took to Twitter on Nov. 6. to explain her vote:

"While you were sleeping, the Democrats passed their ‘infrastructure’ bill. I voted no because it is filled with pork & only 10% is actual infrastructure. Michigan’s roads and bridges need repairs, but the wasteful spending in this bill will harm America for generations to come."

Saying that just 10% of the bill is "actual infrastructure" is ridiculously off-base.

When Biden first proposed what would eventually become the infrastructure bill in April, we gave a Pants on Fire rating to Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., for saying "something less than 6%" of the proposal "is actually focused on infrastructure."

The figure Cheney cited applied to spending on roads, bridges and highways but excluded items in Biden’s proposal that are widely considered to be infrastructure, including public transit, rail, airports, ports, waterways, the electrical grid, drinking water systems and broadband. (Cheney voted against the infrastructure bill when it came up in the House.)

McClain’s statement is, if anything, more inaccurate than Cheney’s, because several large elements of the original proposal that had the weakest claims to be considered "infrastructure" were stricken from the bill that passed both chambers. (McClain’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.)

This transformation of the bill happened because Biden and congressional leaders decided to seek bipartisan buy-in for a pure infrastructure bill and then vote separately on a set of safety-net measures that are more polarizing between the parties.

For instance, when Cheney made her statement, Biden was seeking $400 billion for expanding access to long-term, home and community-based care under Medicaid. That never made it into the bill that passed both chambers.

Other elements of Biden’s original plan fell into a gray area, fitting under some definitions of infrastructure but not others. These included $590 billion for research and development and domestic manufacturing; $400 billion in clean energy tax credits; and $328 billion for capital investments in housing, schools, child care centers, veterans hospitals and other federal buildings.

But these did not make it into the final infrastructure bill. Instead, the bill that passed the House and Senate consisted almost entirely of traditional infrastructure provisions.

Here’s one categorization by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, an independent group that scrutinizes federal spending.

• Roads, bridges and major projects: $110 billion
• Passenger and freight rail: $66 billion
• Public transit: $39 billion
• Airports: $25 billion
• Ports and waterways: $17 billion
• Electric vehicles: $15 billion
• Road safety: $11 billion
• Reconnecting communities: $1 billion
• Electricity infrastructure: $73 billion
• Broadband: $65 billion
• Water infrastructure, including lead pipe replacement: $55 billion
• Resiliency and Western water storage: $50 billion
• Environmental remediation: $21 billion

Total: $548 billion

A few of these categories might be called infrastructure-adjacent rather than pure infrastructure, such as road safety and environmental remediation. But even if you set those two categories aside, roughly 94% of the spending is allocated to categories that are pretty clearly infrastructure — not the 10% McClain said.

The bill will provide McClain’s home state of Michigan $7.3 billion for highway repairs and more than $500 million for bridge work over the next five years, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Funding for airports, ports, waterways, broadband, the electric grid, and drinking water systems are "not only infrastructure but critical infrastructure," Robert Greer, an associate professor in public service and administration at the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service, told PolitiFact for our April article.

Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, agreed.

"There is no reason to exclude traditional infrastructure categories — transportation, water resources, energy, and telecommunications — when assessing" Biden’s agenda, Tomer told us in April. "For decades, and in some cases centuries, the federal government has supported direct investment in these physical capital systems and related policies like workforce development and planning grants."

PolitiFact ruling

PolitiFact: Pants on Fire

McClain said that in the infrastructure bill that just passed the House, "only 10% is actual infrastructure."

This is a version of a Republican talking point that was inaccurate months ago and has been rendered even more inaccurate since then. Because Biden and congressional Democrats split their agenda into an infrastructure-only bill and a separate measure that dealt with social safety net spending, the bill that passed the House was almost entirely pure infrastructure spending.

We rate the statement Pants on Fire!

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