Democrats and Republicans battle over infrastructure bills


The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the seat of the U.S. Congress.

Finn Mcnally

While Democrats attempt to get on the same page about a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and the Republicans are in lock-step opposition to it.

A smaller infrastructure bill worth $1.2 trillion was passed by the U.S. Senate, but House Democrats are refusing to vote on it until the $3.5 trillion bill passes as well..

The $1.2 trillion bill passed the Senate on Aug. 10 by a vote of 69 to 30. Grassley voted yes on the bill, while U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) voted against it.

“Washington Democrats are moving forward with their reckless, multi-trillion dollar tax-and-spending spree to pass their progressive agenda at the expense of Iowa families, farmers and businesses,” said Ernst in a statement.

Grassley said he will not vote for the $3.5 trillion bill because it will feed the fires of inflation. He said that the $1.2 trillion bill is an investment and is worth the spending, but the $3.5 trillion is not.

“I had a chance to vote for something that I’ve been hearing from Iowans about for four five years, I thought I oughta take that opportunity, so I voted yes,” said Grassley.

Despite his opposition to the $3.5 trillion bill as a whole, Grassley said there were elements that he would support individually.

“I wouldn’t say I support it the way they do it, but child care is a very important need in our society and I’m willing to do more for child care,” said Grassley.

The $1.2 trillion bill details a spending budget for the next eight years, including hard infrastructure such as roads, public transit, clean energy and broadband.

However, before it can be made law, the bill has to pass the House of Representatives and be signed by President Joe Biden. Democrats in the House believe the $1.2 trillion bill is insufficient and won’t vote on it until the Senate passes the $3.5 trillion bill.

The $3.5 trillion bill addresses human infrastructure. It includes two years of free community college, universal pre-K and child care and expansion of medicare, cutting prescription drug prices and addressing climate change.

A group of 11 senators including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a joint statement calling for the bills to be passed in tandem.

“Congress must not undercut the President’s proposals that will create new opportunities for America’s families and workers. The House of Representatives should wait to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the budget reconciliation bill, which enacts the rest of the President’s Build Back Better agenda, is sent to the President’s desk,” according to the statement.

Mack Shelley, department chair of the political science department at Iowa State, said in order to pass the $3.5 trillion bill, the Democrats will most likely have to use reconciliation, a procedure that’s meant to expedite the passage of budgetary legislation.

“Reconciliation can only be used once in a fiscal year,” said Shelley, “If it were used for the $1.2 trillion hard infrastructure bill, then that means in principle it cannot be used again for the $3.5 trillion so-called soft infrastructure package.”

Shelley said there is a possibility the Democrats are able to use reconciliation more than once. The Senate Parliamentarian, a non-partisan official appointed by the Senate members, could approve a second or even third use of reconciliation, although Shelley says this is not normal.

If the Democrats decide to use reconciliation for the $3.5 trillion bill, they would need a simple majority in the Senate to pass it. If all 50 Democrat senators voted for it, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote.

However, not all Democrats are on board. U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) have expressed concern with the size of the $3.2 trillion bill.

“Respectfully, as I have said for months, I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party, must ask the simple question – ‘how much is enough?’” said Manchin in a statement.

Sanders responded to Manchin and Simenas opposition to the $3.5 trillion bill.

“Two senators cannot be allowed to defeat what 48 senators and 210 House members want. We must stand with the working families of our country. We must combat climate change. We must delay passing the Infrastructure Bill until we pass a strong Reconciliation Bill,” Sanders tweeted on Oct 1.

In addition to the infrastructure bills, Congress must also deal with the debt ceiling, which is the amount of money that the federal government is allowed to borrow. If that limit is reached, the U.S. would default on its debts.

Shelley said within two to three weeks after the debt ceiling is breached, a lot of federal spending would cease to exist and there could be major repercussions in the economy.

“There are people in Iowa who work for the government and wouldn’t be able to work and wouldn’t be paid for the duration of any government shutdown that would pretty much have to happen if the debt ceiling isn’t raised first,” said Shelley.

On Sept. 21, the House of Representatives passed a bill that extended the deadline for raising the debt ceiling to December. Republicans in the Senate opposed the bill, but it eventually passed the Senate on Oct. 7 with a vote of 50 to 48.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Democrats that Republicans will not help them in raising the debt ceiling if they increase spending with the $3.5 trillion bill.

“If they don’t need or want our input, they won’t get our help with the debt limit increase that these reckless plans will require,” said McConnell in a speech on the Senate floor.

On campus, student-run political organizations have also followed the events surrounding congress.

President of the Iowa State College Democrats Madeline Ladehoff, a sophomore majoring in entrepreneurship and Spanish said she is in support of the $1.2 trillion bill and the $3.5 trillion bill. She believes the bills will be beneficial to all Americans. Ladehoff is in support of universal pre-K, tax increases on people making over $400,000 a year and two years of free community college.

Ladehoff said that the Democrats strategy of holding the vote on the $1.2 trillion bill in order to pass the $3.5 trillion bill is unfortunate but necessary.

“If it doesn’t get passed by the 18th, I believe, it will result in a government shutdown that in turn will get absolutely nothing done so this strategy puts pressure on independents and conservatives to get them to make a decision or at least figure out a way to compromise,” said Ladehoff

Ryan Hurley, a junior majoring in marketing and President of the Iowa State College Republicans United, said he is in support of certain parts of the bills such as a child tax credit, but is opposed to them overall.

Hurley said he does not agree with the Democrat’s strategy for pushing the $3.5 trillion bill and Republicans like McConnell should stand up to them. He said that he is not a fan of any Republican who supports these bills.

“Both of these bills are massive government overspending,” said Hurley, “There’s a lot of glut and inefficiency in the bills. Amongst the biggest of these is the healthcare sections which focus on giving more funding to Obamacare while Obamacare is not really that good.”