Democrats Lay Out Speculative Marker for Water Infrastructure

By Stephen Barlas, Washington Editor

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Invest in America Act (H.R. 3684) in June which is the Democrats’ bid for the infrastructure piece that could be included in whatever bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress passes and President Biden signs. The Invest Act reauthorizes and funds at higher levels than in the past for both the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, which support local projects. The bill passed on July 1 by a vote of 221-201 with only two Republicans supporting it.

That the House bill has minimal Republican support means its contents, from highway to bridge to water infrastructure spending, may or may not survive in whatever Senate bipartisan bill emerges. It has not been written yet and may not pass the Senate or House. Moreover, a bipartisan “water only” bill passed in April has considerably smaller SRF funding numbers.

But for the moment, House Democrats want to spend $117 billion on drinking water projects and $51.25 billion on sewer projects, both those sums over five fiscal years, from fiscal 2021, starting Oct. 1, 2021, to fiscal 2026. Of the drinking water proposed spending, $53 billion would be for the DWSRF and $45 billion to fully replace lead service lines throughout the nation.

Notable in the wastewater portion is $40 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and $2 billion for projects to capture, treat or reuse sewer overflows or stormwater – helping keep pollution out of local rivers and lakes – and $2.5 billion for state water pollution control programs.

To get a sense of how speculative the House funding numbers are, the Senate passed on April 29 a bill called the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 by a vote of 89-2. It also reauthorizes both the SRFs for five years for a total of $14.7 billion each. Those annual allotments are substantially lower than what is in the House Invest Act, reflecting compromises Democrats in the Senate made in order to attract needed Republican support.

It is clear the House Invest Act is not going to sell well among Republicans in the Senate. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, blasted the Invest Act saying, “This bill is nothing more than the Green New Deal with a little infrastructure sprinkled on top. It’s completely unpaid for and it does nothing to fix the broken bureaucratic system that drags out major highway projects for years and eats up almost 30 percent of our transportation dollars. We need real bipartisan solutions to fix real infrastructure in America. This bill doesn’t do that, it’s just the first step in the Speaker’s $6 trillion spending plan that will drive more inflation – increasing the price of everything from gas to groceries and taxing middle-class families.”

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