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Legislative Column: New Federal Stimulus Funding at a Critical Juncture

  • New Federal Stimulus Funding at a Critical Juncture


    Jeff Simering, Director of Legislation


    With the beginning of the new school year and the spike in COVID-19 delta infections, a hopeful return to normal remains elusive.  Plans for a smooth reopening of in-person instruction are continually being adjusted to address conflicting directives from state and federal authorities and quarantines for sizeable numbers of students and staff.  And school board meetings have become protest forums for small segments of the community to call attention to their opinions on masking, vaccinations, testing, and other politically charged issues.

    Yet in the nation’s capital, political polarization continues to survive in a pandemic adjusted environment despite remote agency operations, online congressional committee meetings, and modified voting procedures.  Nonetheless, another round of economic stimulus legislation modeled from President Biden’s American Jobs Plan (AJP) and American Families Plan (AFP) winds its way through the Senate and House. 

    Much of the content and amount of these new federal investments are being crafted by various congressional committees for action later in September.  The $1 trillion “core” infrastructure legislation has been formulated through an unusual bipartisan agreement among senators and the White House over the summer and passed by the Senate on August 10th in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) by a 69 to 30 margin.   The infrastructure bill includes funding for roads, bridges, transit, rail, airports, water projects, the electric grid, environmental improvements, and broadband investments.  The bipartisan agreement, however, does not include investments in school facility construction and modernization.  The Congressional Budget Office projects some $250 billion to be added to the federal deficit by this $1 trillion measure over a ten-year period despite various user fees, tax enforcement efforts, and repurposing $550 billion in unspent pandemic emergency funds.  The House has scheduled a vote on the infrastructure bill by late September.

    School officials remain focused on the next pending stimulus package in hopes of a significant investment in school infrastructure improvement.  Both the Senate and House have begun the legislative process for moving a $3.5 trillion FY 2022 Budget Reconciliation bill.  Ironically, the original budget reconciliation process was created as a legislative mechanism to control federal spending and reduce the federal deficit.  More recently, it has become an expedited mechanism for increasing spending and cutting taxes, thereby adding to the federal deficit in the short term. 

    Both the Senate and House have passed a Budget Resolution providing the initial framework for the $3.5 trillion Budget Reconciliation bill.  Importantly, budget reconciliation bills are not subject to Senate filibusters and can be passed with a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress.  In short, if the Democrats can continue to hold together their narrow voting majority without defections from either their progressive or moderate factions, no Republican votes will be needed to pass the FY 2022 Budget Reconciliation bill and the remaining priorities of the Biden AJP and AFP can be passed expeditiously in both legislative chambers.

    The amount of the investment in the various Biden “social infrastructure” programs remain to be worked out during the first few weeks of September.  School infrastructure, universal preschool, universal community college, school staff shortages and training, child care, paid sick and family leave, unemployment insurance, family tax credits, and expanded Medicare and health care benefits are among the competing priorities within the $3.5 trillion stimulus framework.  House and Senate committees are working cooperatively to agree on funding levels and statutory language and expedite the process.  To avoid fatal procedural objections, reconciliation provisions must be crafted carefully to address budgetary issues rather than purely policy matters. 

    Educators have been weighing in with their congressional delegations over the summer to underscore the extent of local needs for school infrastructure improvements and school program investments.  Despite the challenges of reopening in the new school year, outreach to senators and representatives on these historic federal investments continues to be critical in the initial weeks of September.