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Joe Biden signs $1 trillion US infrastructure bill

U.S. President Joe Biden signed his $1 trillion US "Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act" into law Monday on the White House lawn, hailing it as an example of what bipartisanship can achieve.

'America is moving again and your life is going to change for the better,' U.S. president says

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks before signing the 'Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act' during a ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House on Monday. The law, which differs significantly from Biden's original vision, was heralded as a bipartisan success. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden signed his hard-fought $1 trillion US infrastructure deal into law Monday before a celebratory bipartisan crowd on the White House lawn, declaring that the new infusion of cash for roads, bridges, ports and more is going to change life "for the better" for the American people.

But prospects for further bipartisanship are tougher ahead of the 2022 midterm elections as Biden pivots back to more difficult negotiations over his broader $1.85 trillion US social spending package.

The president hopes to use the law to build back his popularity, and says it will deliver jobs, clean water, high-speed internet and a clean energy future.

"My message to the American people is this: America is moving again and your life is going to change for the better." 

With the infrastructure deal, the president had to choose between his promise of fostering national unity and a commitment to transformative change.

The final measure whittled down much of his initial vision for infrastructure, yet the administration hopes to sell the new law as a success that bridged partisan divides and will elevate the country with clean drinking water, high-speed internet and a shift away from fossil fuels.

Biden heralds 'compromise and consensus'

Speaking to the crowd Monday, Biden said that too often in Washington, the reason deals don't get done is because parties insist on getting everything they want. 

"With this law, we focused on getting things done," he said. "I ran for president because the only way to move our country forward in my view was through compromise and consensus."

Biden will travel outside Washington to sell the plan more broadly in coming days.

He intends go to New Hampshire on Tuesday to visit a bridge on the state's "red list" for repair. On Wednesday, he'll visit a General Motors' electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit, while other officials fan out across the country.

The president went to the Port of Baltimore last week to highlight how investments in the bill could limit inflation and strengthen supply chains, a key concern of voters who are dealing with higher prices.

"We see this as is an opportunity because we know that the president's agenda is quite popular," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday before the signing. Reaching out directly to voters moves "beyond the legislative process to talk about how this is going to help them. And we're hoping that's going to have an impact."

Bipartisan support

Biden held off on signing the hard-fought infrastructure deal after it passed on Nov. 5 until legislators would be back from a congressional recess and could join in a splashy bipartisan event.

On Sunday night before the signing, the White House announced Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor, would help manage and co-ordinate the implementation of the infrastructure spending.

The gathering Monday on the White House lawn was uniquely upbeat with a brass band and peppy speeches, a contrast to the drama and tensions when the fate of the package was in doubt for several months. The speakers lauded the measure for creating jobs, combating inflation and responding to the needs of voters.

WATCH | U.S. inflation hits 30-year high: 

U.S. inflation hits 30-year high

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The inflation rate in the U.S. has hit a 30-year high with the price of essential goods such as food and gas up 6.2 per cent compared to last year. President Joe Biden, who is slumping in the polls, has promised to find ways to get it down and keep store shelves stocked for the holidays. 2:03

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican who helped negotiate the package, celebrated Biden's willingness to jettison much of his initial proposal to help bring GOP lawmakers on board.

"This bipartisan support for this bill comes because it makes sense for our constituents, but the approach from the centre out should be the norm, not the exception," he said.

The signing included governors and mayors from both parties and labour and business leaders. In addition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the guest list included Republicans such as Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, New York Rep. Tom Reed, Alaska Rep. Don Young and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Biden signs the 'Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act' while lawmakers from both parties look on. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The president had to cut back his initial ambition to spend $2.3 trillion US on infrastructure by more than half. The bill in reality includes about $550 billion US in new spending over 10 years, since some of the expenditures in the package were already planned.

The agreement ultimately got support from 19 Senate Republicans, including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell. Thirteen House Republicans also voted for the infrastructure bill.

Former president Donald Trump issued a statement attacking "Old Crow" McConnell and other Republicans for co-operating on "a terrible Democrat Socialist Infrastructure Plan."

Cruz warns bill could give Dems momentum

Historians, economists and engineers welcomed Biden's efforts, but stressed that $1 trillion US was not nearly enough to overcome the government's failure for decades to maintain and upgrade the country's infrastructure.

"We've got to be sober here about what our infrastructure gap is in terms of a level of investment and go into this eyes wide open, that this is not going to solve our infrastructure problems across the nation," said David Van Slyke, dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

Biden also tried unsuccessfully to tie the infrastructure bill to passage of a broader social spending package of $1.85 trillion US. That measure has yet to gain sufficient support from narrow Democratic majorities.

Biden continues to work to appease Democratic skeptics of the broader package, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, while also holding on to the most liberal branches of his party. Pelosi said Monday that the other package will pass "hopefully this week."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz expressed concern Sunday that Republican support for the infrastructure bill could ultimately lead Democrats to rally and back the second package.

"They gave Joe Biden a political win," Cruz said of his fellow Republicans.

"He will now go across the country touting, look at this big bipartisan win. And that additional momentum, unfortunately, makes it more likely that they whip their Democrats into shape and pass some multitrillion-dollar spending bill on top of this."

The haggling over infrastructure has shown that Biden can bring both parties together, even as tensions continue to mount over the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.

Yet the result is a product that might not meet the existential threat of climate change or the transformative legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose portrait hangs in Biden's Oval Office.

"Yes, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a big deal," said Peter Norton, a history professor in the University of Virginia's engineering department. "But the bill is not transformational, because most of it is more of the same."

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