- President Joe Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress — where he is expected to outline specific goals and priorities for measures like an infrastructure package — will not occur this month as was expected.
- The speech will most likely take place in mid-March, according to legislative experts from contractor groups, who said it has been pushed back due to lawmakers' focus this month on former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial and on passing a new COVID-19 relief package.
- The coronavirus package is legislators’ top priority, as they eye a March 14 deadline on unemployment benefits. Biden’s address would likely come shortly after a decision on the bill, which could face some hurdles, according to USA Today.
Contractors have eagerly awaited details of Biden’s multitrillion Build Back Better infrastructure plan, which he said he will provide when he speaks to Congress.
It’s likely Biden will take the opportunity next month to address lawmakers, touting what he believes will be a win for the COVID-19 relief package, before focusing on the next priorities, said Jimmy Christianson, vice president of government relations at the Associated General Contractors of America. Although Biden has said infrastructure will be one of his administration’s top priorities, there are many questions that contractors are waiting for the president to answer.
“Every contractor is interested in the opportunity for more work,” Christianson said, “but infrastructure has been the bridesmaid many times.” He said there is both skepticism and optimism surrounding an infrastructure package, as contractors would relish the opportunity for more work even though there will almost certainly be new federal strings attached.
Project labor agreements and local hiring mandates could impact contractors working on federal projects, and build new hoops for them to jump through. Additionally, it’s not clear whether the infrastructure package will come from deficit spending or raised taxes. Christianson also said he anticipates that Biden will emphasize renewable energy practices, following the recent weather-induced power outages in Texas and surrounding states.
The route to an infrastructure package isn’t clear, said Peter Comstock, director of legislative affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors, and will depend on bipartisan support and budget reconciliation — a fast-tracking process for bills embodied in Congress’ budget resolution. How long it will take is still unclear, Comstock said, but a move toward a big infrastructure bill will likely have a September 2021 deadline, when the extension on the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act extension runs out.
“They do have [that] deadline. Whether or not they kick the can or do something substantial has yet to be seen,” Comstock said.