The Biden administration’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure package has received mixed reviews from farm groups and farm state lawmakers. Most have long been supportive of infrastructure investment and improvements to fix the nation’s aging infrastructure and keep U.S. farmers' competitive global edge. The catch is the high price tag and how to pay for the plan. However, farm state lawmakers are fighting against the price tag and the additions in the act that are not infrastructure related.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., are both opposing the measure due to what they see as waste in the bill. They say President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan should focus on core and traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, ports, locks and dams, and rural broadband.
“Only about a quarter of the $2.25 trillion program he put forth is actually infrastructure," Grassley said. "The rest is a wish list of items that they would not otherwise be able to get passed.”
He said the money should be an investment in long-term projects that will have a long-term impact on the economy.
The breakdown of the American Jobs Act includes $621 billion for repair and construction of the nation’s transportation system. $115 billion was allocated for roads and bridges, including upgrades on the worst 10,000 small bridges, and another $20 billion for road safety improvements. $80 billion is earmarked for passenger and freight rail upgrades and another $17 billion for inland waterways.
Farm groups have had infrastructure investments on the top of their political wish list for many years as they have watched roads, bridges, and the nation’s locks and dams age and fall into disrepair. Townships and counties rarely have the money needed to maintain, let alone build new stretches of road or replace bridges, and the cost climbs every year. Farmers also understand that when there are failures in the transportation system, and they can’t get product to market, it hurts their bottom line and they get less for their goods. Jeff Thompson, immediate past president of the South Dakota Soybean Association, said, on face value, the investment is critical.
“Infrastructure is huge, you know, it is just getting the stuff in you know, like the fertilizer coming up to our farms and getting the soybeans and the corn and the crops out,” he said.
Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers in Washington, D.C., said they want to make sure agriculture is a priority as the plan moves forward.
“Highways are going to be there because people drive a lot, but rail and waterways — that is going to be agriculture's job to make sure that stays at the forefront,” he said.
Biofuels groups are disappointed in the $174 billion that was carved out for electric vehicles and to support development of charging stations, while there was no mention of any infrastructure support for biofuels. The omission goes against the idea that biofuels are a ready solution to climate change and getting to carbon neutral status as a country. Meanwhile, other farm groups are concerned about the proposed hike in corporate taxes to pay for the infrastructure plan.
However, the Senate parliamentarian has ruled the bill can use the same legislative process that was used for Biden’s coronavirus assistance package. This would expand the reconciliation process that allows bills to be passed by a simple majority. With the 50-50 split in the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris would break the tie on a party-line vote. Grassley said the most honest way for the Democrats to proceed is to work in a bipartisan fashion and reach some sort of middle ground. However, the Iowa senator concedes that with the Republicans essentially in the minority, they have no leverage in working out a compromise that would take the traditional infrastructure projects and put them in a separate bill.
As the administration rolled out the American Jobs Plan, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was also trying to drum up support in farm country by touting the importance of transportation to agriculture and getting products to market. He said it's critical for a strong and healthy agricultural economy, and the American Jobs Act is the key to achieving that goal.