Infrastructure week finally arrived in Washington, D.C. with the Senate’s approval of the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on Tuesday morning. The bill – whose main tech-related titles include $65 billion for broadband and around $2 billion for cybersecurity – cleared the Senate by a vote of 69-30.
Senate approval of the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill represents a major legislative and policy win for the Biden administration and for the bipartisan group of senators that have spent months negotiating its terms. The bill, however, remains far from becoming law, as it still needs approval from the House.
With the infrastructure bill’s legislative process completed in the Senate chamber, Senate Democrats moved on today to set up a vote on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution for the fiscal year 2022 budget. While that bill will largely deal with “soft infrastructure,” House Democrats have required its passage for them to also consider the Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure bill.
“It’s been a long time in coming,” the senator said. “Our economy is number one in the world, but infrastructure ranks number 13. You will find better roads, bridges, airports, broadband in the United Arab Emirates than in the United States of America. Today, the Senate takes a decades-overdue step to revitalize America’s infrastructure and give our workers, our businesses, our economy the tools to succeed in the 21st century,” he added.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aims to make significant investments in broadband, an issue that emerged as prominent among the bill’s nearly $550 billion in new spending largely focused on traditional infrastructures like transportation and the power grid.
The largest investment in broadband comes in the form of a $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, with another $14 billion going towards the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. That program, authorized in the American Rescue Plan, will have its name changed to the Affordable Connectivity Benefit program, and the cost of its broadband service plans will fall to $30 per month, from the current level of $50 per month.
Additionally, the bill includes $2.75 billion for two digital equity grants and $2.5 billion for a reconnecting communities pilot program. The rest of the funding will go towards building middle-mile broadband infrastructure ($1 billion), a tribal broadband connectivity fund ($2 billion), rural communities ($2 billion), and the Appalachian Regional Commission’s High Speed Internet Initiative ($100 million).
With the sharp rise in cyber and ransomware attacks over the past two years, cybersecurity was among the top non-infrastructure-specific inclusions in the bill. The bill makes investments into grant programs and the cybersecurity of the power grid, as well as cyber research, a cyber response fund, and the office of the National Cyber Director.
More than half of the bill’s cybersecurity funding – about $1 billion – will go towards the creation of State and Local government cybersecurity grants that aim to incentivize state, local, territorial, and tribal governments to increase their cybersecurity capabilities. Usage of the funds will require governments to present comprehensive cybersecurity plans.
The bill also includes $550 million for an electric grid cybersecurity program, $157 million for cybersecurity research by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, $140 million for a cyber response and recovery fund, and $21 million to stand up National Cyber Director Chris Inglis’ office.
Looking forward, the next big legislative turns for the Senate-approved infrastructure bill are likely to come in September and will center on what House members think about not only that legislation but the $3.5 trillion FY2022 budget resolution that will likely come from the Senate this week.
Senate Democrats are now set to pass a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that will largely focus on climate change and human infrastructure. After that, the near-term plan is for individual Senate committees to work on writing the legislation over the rest of the summer recess and bring their portions of the spending bill back by September 15, according to a Senate source.
While the reconciliation instructions sent to the committees do include one to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee to improve cybersecurity infrastructure, the bill’s largest impact will be on its necessity to move the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act forward in the House.
With a slim majority in the House, the Progressive Caucus had previously said it would not take up the now-Senate passed infrastructure bill without the budget resolution passing as well.