$580 Billion and a 'Huge' Amount of Potential Changes: What the Infrastructure Deal Could Mean
Recent news of crumbling bridges and access to the internet so poor that children are forced to do their remote-learning on cellphones aren't necessarily anything new - but in 2021, and as Americans slowly return to normal life amid the waning days of the pandemic, those headlines serve as a reminder that the nation's infrastructure is long overdue for an overhaul.
While the road is long between the agreement reached this week and whatever bill may end up on Biden's desk for a signature - and some Republicans have already criticized the proposal - the White House is rallying around what they call a sweeping project.
Psaki, 42, explains that if passed as written, the agreement will impact everything from access to and the cost of high-speed internet to more clean drinking water and tax credits for an electric car.
"Depending on the community you're living in - whether its broadband internet access or maybe you want an electric vehicle, but you need some tax credits to get one and want to make sure there's a places to charge one along the way … this bill has funding for all of that," Psaki says.
In announcing the news that, with five Republicans in support, the plan had enough bipartisan backing to move forward, the White House said it "will make life better for millions of Americans."
The changes wouldn't happen overnight, with spending set to roll out over the course of eight years.
Over time, however, it could change many facets of American life.
Here's what the infrastructure plan could mean for people's everyday lives.
Expanded Access to Broadband Could Mean More Affordable Internet Access
With broadband internet access still an issue in many rural communities, the plan aims to expand coverage across the country, with the administration comparing the effort to the historic move to provide electricity for every American 100 years ago.
"Right now, everyone across the country doesn't have access to broadband … this will change that," Psaki says. "One of my biggest takeaways from the pandemic is that not having that access to high-speed internet added to inequality for so many. Some families that didn't have that access couldn't reliably get into remote school, or work, or get their homework done."
As a result of expanded coverage, the Biden administration says, internet costs would go down everywhere.
"This includes funding to ensure that reliable high speed internet is available everywhere, which will also drive down the price," Psaki says.
Roads and Bridges Will Get a Makeover
One of the biggest pieces of the proposal is the investment in rebuilding roads, railways and bridges, with $109 billion devoted to spending on major projects.
"I can't tell everyone whether the road in their community will have its potholes repaired, but we know our infrastructure is outdated," Psaki says. "We've seen bridges collapsing even in recent weeks. Certainly anyone taking their kids to school or to camp this summer knows that their roads need to be rebuilt."
Psaki says that it's too early to say how that investment will shake out and which parts of the country might see the most progress in terms of upgraded roads or bridges, adding: "There will be a whole competitive bidding process … and some [funds] will go to big huge infrastructure projects in the country that need the most help."
Electric Vehicles Will Be Easier to Access (and Charge)
The infrastructure agreement devotes $15 billion toward electric vehicle initiatives, which includes tax credits for those who own an electric vehicle and more chargers across the country, for ease of use.
"We want to make it easier to buy an electric vehicle and drive it," Psaki says, noting that the plan would build a national network of chargers along highways and in rural and disadvantaged communities (part of the president's goal to build 500,000 chargers throughout the U.S.).
Psaki explains that the plan also "electrifies thousands of schools and transit buses across the country," allowing for the modernization of school and city transport in regions across the country as well as the lowering of emissions.
The proposal would also make the largest federal investment in passenger rail ($66 billion) since the creation of Amtrak - no surprise, consider Biden's love for rail travel. ("He does love trains and Amtrak," Psaki says.)
Low-Income Communities Will Have Access to Cleaner Drinking Water
The plan would devote $55 billion toward water infrastructure, eliminating the nation's lead service lines and pipes to deliver clean drinking water to "up to ten million American families and more than 400,000 schools and child care facilities that currently don't have it, including in Tribal nations and disadvantaged communities," the White House said.
That makes the package, as written, the largest investment in clean drinking water and waste water infrastructure in American history.
"There are still lead surface lines and pipes in many communities," Psaki says, adding that the plan ensures "that there's clean drinking water that goes to the millions of Americans who are impacted" by lead pipes.
Not only does the infrastructure agreement work to rebuild those pipes but, in doing so, "puts millions of people back to work," she says.
The Administration Says Jobs Will be Created While Climate Change Is Also Addressed
While Psaki tells PEOPLE "there are a lot of components we're excited about," she adds that Biden "is really excited about the fact that you can take steps to protect our climate while also creating good union jobs."
She continues: "Creating a national network of EV stations, eliminating lead pipes … this is going to create millions of jobs but in a way where we will be protecting climate, as well."
Of the package, $20 billion would be put toward creating an Infrastructure Financing Authority, which the White House said would focus specifically on clean transportation and energy.
Key facets of the plan, Psaki says, take into account the notion of rebuilding infrastructure so that it's "climate resilient," preparing American infrastructure for extreme weather events and making it less susceptible to cyber attacks.
The infrastructure agreement is a breakthrough for an administration that had insisted it wants bipartisanship.
But its passage is not a sure thing yet, with its fate tied to another, larger spending package likely to be passed through special congressional rules over the opposition of the Republican minority.
Biden said this larger bill would need be signed "in tandem" with the infrastructure plan, setting up what lawmakers are viewing as a two-track timeline of moving both pieces of legislation through Congress in the coming weeks.
The details of the larger spending bill remain unclear, though it is likely to include some major Democratic priorities for which there is no Republican support, including some left-out pieces of Biden's original infrastructure proposal.
Indeed, along with the infrastructure spending, the administration hopes to pass another measure that would include "universal Pre-K access, free community college for two years, an extension of the child tax credit and additional benefits," Psaki says.
Still, that the White House was able to reach a compromise with some Republican senators signals hope for what would be the largest transportation package ever approved by Congress - even if it isn't exactly what the administration was hoping for.
According to a fact sheet provided by the White House, the total cost of the proposed deal announced Thursday is $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion in new spending, which puts it far short of the plan introduced by Biden in March.
But, Psaki maintains, "This package contains two-thirds of the resources proposed in the initial package, but he wanted to show he's willing to compromise."
She continues: "The president ran for office as someone who argued he could bring country together and work with Democrats and Republicans and this is an example of that. He was in the senate for 36 years and he felt there would be areas we could work together, even while we reserve option of going it alone. We have plenty of areas of disagreements with Republicans [but] making sure people have access to broadband, rebuilding roads and bridges and making drinking water cleaner … this is something we can all agree on."