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Big Questions Loom Ahead of Biden’s Next Spending Push, Like ‘What Is Infrastructure?’

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With a $ 1.9 trillion COVID relief package finally passed, the next big spending push is just around the corner-repairing the nation’s diseased bridges, roads and airports and investing billions in new projects such as broadband internet.

Biden could sketch out the outline of the plan, promised on the campaign track, in a joint address to Congress this month and provide details in April, giving lawmakers several months to work on the bill before a break in August, people familiar with the White House plans said.

The White House has added infrastructure management experts in recent weeks, and called on lawmakers and companies to discuss the topic.

With a narrow majority in Congress, Biden and Democrats will have to move all or part of the package through a budget process that will only require party votes known as conciliation, or attract Republican votes and do it’s a two -sided effort.

Either way, Reuters interviews with lobbyists, lawmakers, administration officials and company executives reveal broad questions that still need to be answered before any bill can be written.

HOW IS INFRASTRUCTURE TEACHED?

Biden and his fellow Democrats hope to expand the definition of infrastructure beyond existing transportation architecture to include items aimed at tackling climate change and its effects, which ranged from $ 2 trillion, 10-year “Back Better” proposal that floated during his campaign.

This includes investing in electric vehicle charging stations, zero-emission buses and zero-carbon electricity generation by 2035, and directing dollars to neighborhoods and minority contractors, part of a commitment to increase racial equity.

Democrats have urged that they want to invest billions in creating and fixing affordable housing in any package and expand broadband internet access to all Americans, especially in rural communities.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that she has instructed senior Democrats to begin working with Republicans on a “large, bold and transformational infrastructure package.”

Republicans and influential commodity groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support large infrastructure spending, but not Democratic efforts to inject climate change or equality policy into a spending bill.

Representative Peter DeFazio, who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview that his “tentative timeline” is for the committee to complete action on its part of an infrastructure bill before the end of May.

He said a proposal could be split between consensus to raise revenue and direct funding and traditional legislative procedures to set policy.

HOW TO PAY FOR IT?

House Democrats passed a $ 1.5 trillion infrastructure package last year that died in the Senate, but could be a blueprint here. This is one-third funded from existing fuel taxes and budget transfers.

Leading Democrats are proposing to remove Trump’s tax cuts in 2017 or impose new taxes on super wealth – ideas that don’t start for most Republicans and some Democrats.

Some economists and business groups have suggested lawmakers should forget about finding new funding for the entire package and instead borrow some money given the historically low cost of debt and economic placements.

Others, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are proposing creating a federal infrastructure bank that can lend money at cheap rates to private companies.

CAN THE MAIN AMOUNT OF THE TRUST FUND BE ADJUSTED?

The Highway Trust Fund, established in 1956, finances most of federal government spending for highways and mass transit – but it has been in the red since 2008, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, a major source of revenue, have not risen from 18.3-cents-per-gallon for gasoline or 24.3-cents for diesel since 1993, requiring approximately $ 140 billion transfers from general revenue.

The fund’s latest spending plan will expire in September, and there is little political will to raise fuel taxes.

Some Democrats want to rethink how drivers are taxed, switching to a one-mile car trip that will strike electric cars, but tax collection is difficult and has given a lot of issues, including privacy concerns.

CAN EARMARKS HELP?

The American public doesn’t particularly like “earmarks,” federal funding stuffed with bills for a specific project in a district or state by a legislature, but it could be a way to bring back the policy of bipartisan.

The practice, which has been banned since 2011 because of the abuses, has some support on both sides.

Democratic lawmakers hope the earmarks will help keep their narrow core aspirations together in big votes, boost the likelihood of electing weaker members by 2022 and persuade Republicans to support the bill. Republicans are also weighing in on whether the earmarks will be accepted again.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Edited by Heather Timmons and Andrea Ricci)

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