The passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by the Senate on Tuesday came after months of political wrangling and negotiation. From its introduction to its final approval, the bill underwent several minor changes, like the deletion of certain words, the addition of new policies or programs, or the expansion of policies and programs already in the bill.
As the Senate worked to write and improve the bill, Senators proposed amendments for a wide range of issues, some that went far beyond the original goal of maintaining infrastructure. In such a comprehensive bill, entire sections are bound to get lost in the 1,000+ page mountain of text. Many of the amendments proposed or passed were simply minor changes—improving appropriations for the Corps of Engineers, modifying provisions about cybersecurity, designating additional high priority corridors on the National Highway system—but some, whether they passed or not, stood out.
Sen. Schumer Adds Limo Safety Standards
In the text of the bill, one section mandates federal research on the crashworthiness of limousines. This section was amended by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to include the establishment of federal safety standards for limousines’ side impact protection, roof crush resistance, and airbag systems. The amendment was proposed on Aug. 4 and passed 58–39 the same day.
Race-Based Business Aid
Another section of the bill reads: “Congress finds that … discrimination and related barriers continue to pose significant obstacles for minority- and women-owned businesses seeking to do business in Federally assisted surface transportation markets across the U.S. … [and that] race- and gender-neutral efforts alone are insufficient to address the problem.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) sought to expand on the federal government’s response to these findings. In an amendment introduced Aug. 4, Cardin proposed a requirement that “the Minority Business Development Agency of the Department of Commerce promote and administer programs in the public and private sectors to assist the development of minority business enterprises.”
Republicans did not press the issue and the amendment passed easily by voice vote, adding additional race-based aid to the bill.
Sen. Padilla Increases Funding for Indian Health Care
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) put forth an amendment to increase flexibility in the use of available funds for renovating, constructing, and expanding certain health care facilities on American Indian reservations. The final cut of the bill grants $3.5 billion to Indian Health Facilities. This sum is due in part to the efforts of Padilla, for whom Indian affairs have been a pet project for some time. Earlier this year, Padilla, along with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) introduced a separate bill intended to improve health care for Indians living in urban areas.
Padilla said of the amendment, “Tribal communities face grave and unjust disparities in access to many kinds of infrastructure, but the disparities in access to health care and health infrastructure are especially stark.” He wrote: “this amendment would not give Urban Indian Organizations more funding or take away funding from anyone else. It would simply give them additional flexibility to use the funding they already receive for necessary infrastructure improvements.” The proposal easily passed with a 90–7 vote.
Still, some have criticized the entire section as an example of the “outrageous” spending in the bill.
Sen. Scott Anti-Inflation Amendment Revoked
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) put forth an amendment prohibiting funds from being dispersed toward the programs in the bill if the Congressional Budget Office should determine that disbursements would cause an increase in inflation. This amendment, if passed, would have effectively crippled the Treasury’s ability to fulfill the obligations outlined in the bill. The Senate revoked the amendment in a 42–55 vote.
Sen. Johnson Amendment to Maintain Trump Border Wall Contracts Revoked
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed an amendment to forbid the federal government from canceling contracts signed by the Trump administration to build a border wall. Further, it forbade the federal government from using federal funds to pay the penalty for canceling these contracts. The amendment was shot down 48–49 in a party-line vote.
Proposal to Cut Federal Funding for Groups That Hire Illegal Immigrants Revoked
A proposal by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) would have barred entities not enrolled in the E-Verify program from receiving federal funding. E-Verify is an online tool used by employers to determine the eligibility of applicants to work in the United States. This amendment would have greatly impeded the ability of various firms that contract with the government to continue to hire illegal immigrants. Despite the defection of some Democrats on the issue, the amendment was shot down 53–45, failing to meet the 60 vote threshold needed.
Crypto Compromise Amendment Shot Down
One section of the bill caused a great deal of concern online because of its potential to destroy the cryptocurrency market, spawning a trend on Twitter with the tag #DontKillCrypto.
In brief, the bill would redefine the meaning of a “broker” for digital assets (like Bitcoin, Etherium, etc.) in a way that would create tax-reporting obligations for blockchain innovators who have no access to that kind of information.
On Aug. 9, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced an amendment that would fix this impossible obligation by excluding certain groups like crypto miners from the definition of broker. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen voiced her support for the amendment. However, this vote failed to meet the unanimous approval required to amend the bill after Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) objected.
As the bill shapes up to head to the House of Representatives, it is poised to undergo more debate and amendment from congressmen who find the bill too big or too small.