Senate Takes Up Infrastructure Bill 07/29 06:12
The Senate has voted to begin work on a nearly $1 trillion national
infrastructure plan, acting with sudden speed after weeks of fits and starts
once the White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed on major
provisions of the package that's key to President Joe Biden's agenda.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate has voted to begin work on a nearly $1
trillion national infrastructure plan, acting with sudden speed after weeks of
fits and starts once the White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed
on major provisions of the package that's key to President Joe Biden's agenda.
Biden welcomed the accord as one that would show America can "do big
things." It includes the most significant long-term investments in nearly a
century, he said, on par with building the transcontinental railroad or the
Interstate highway system.
"This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function," Biden said
ahead of the vote Wednesday night. "We will once again transform America and
propel us into the future."
After weeks of stop-and-go negotiations, the rare bipartisan showing on a
67-32 vote to start formal Senate consideration showed the high interest among
senators in the infrastructure package. But it's unclear if enough Republicans
will eventually join Democrats to support final passage.
Senate rules require 60 votes in the evenly split 50-50 chamber to proceed
for consideration and ultimately pass this bill, meaning support from both
The outcome will set the stage for the next debate over Biden's much more
ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit of
far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health
care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans strongly
oppose that bill, which would require a simple majority, and may try to stop
Lead GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced the bipartisan
group's agreement on the $1 trillion package earlier Wednesday at the Capitol,
flanked by four other Republican senators who had been in talks with Democrats
and the White House.
After voting, Portman said the outcome showed that bipartisanship in
Washington can work and he believed GOP support would only grow. "That's pretty
darn good for a start," he said.
That group had labored with the White House to salvage the deal, a first
part of Biden's big infrastructure agenda. Swelling to more than 700 pages, the
bill includes $550 billion in new spending for public works projects.
In all, 17 Republican senators joined the Democrats in voting to launch the
debate, but most remained skeptical. The GOP senators were given a thick binder
of briefing materials during a private lunch, but they asked many questions and
wanted more details.
According to a 57-page GOP summary obtained by The Associated Press, the
five-year spending package would be paid for by tapping $205 billion in unspent
COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid some states
have halted. It also relies on economic growth to bring in $56 billion, and
Giving Wednesday night's vote a boost, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell
announced late in the day he would vote to proceed, though whether he will
support the final bill remains uncertain. The Republican negotiators met with
McConnell earlier Wednesday and Portman said the leader "all along has been
encouraging our efforts."
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a lead Democratic negotiator who talks often
with Republicans also spoke with Biden on Wednesday and said the she hoped the
results showed "our government can work."
Democrats, who have slim control of the House and Senate, face a timeline to
act on what would be some of the most substantial pieces of legislation in
Filling in the details has become a month-long exercise ever since a
bipartisan group of senators struck an agreement with Biden in June over the
The new spending in the package dropped from about $600 billion to $550
billion, senators said, as money was eliminated for a public-private
infrastructure bank and was reduced in other categories, including transit.
The package still includes $110 billion for highways, $65 billion for
broadband and $73 billion to modernize the nation's electric grid, according a
White House fact sheet.
Additionally, there's $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for waterworks
and more than $50 billion to bolster infrastructure against cyberattacks and
climate change. There's also $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging
Paying for the package has been a slog throughout the talks after Democrats
rejected a plan to bring in funds by hiking the gas tax drivers pay at the pump
and Republicans dashed an effort to boost the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.
Along with repurposing the COVID-19 relief and unemployment aid, other
revenue would come from the sale of broadcast spectrum, reinstating fees that
chemical companies used to pay for cleaning up the nation's worst hazardous
waste sites and drawing $49 billion from reversing a Trump-era pharmaceutical
rebate, among other sources.
The final deal could run into political trouble if it doesn't pass muster as
fully paid for when the Congressional Budget Office assesses the details. But
Portman said the package will be "more than paid for."
House Democrats have their own transportation bill, which includes much more
spending to address rail transit, electric vehicles and other strategies to
counter climate change.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not commit to supporting the package until
she sees the details, but said Wednesday she's "rooting for it."
Pelosi said, "I very much want it to pass."
A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC found 8 in 10 Americans favor
some increased infrastructure spending.
Senators in the bipartisan group have been huddling privately for months.
The group includes 10 core negotiators, split evenly between Democrats and
Republicans, but has swelled at times to 22.
Transit funding has remained a stubborn dispute, as most Republican senators
come from rural states where highways dominate and public transit is scarce,
while Democrats view transit as a priority for cities and a key to easing
congesting and fighting climate change.
Expanding access to broadband. which has become ever more vital for
households during the coronavirus pandemic, sparked a new debate. Republicans
pushed back against imposing regulations on internet service providers in a
program that helps low-income people pay for service.
Meanwhile, Democrats are readying the broader $3.5 trillion package that is
being considered under budget rules that allow passage with 51 senators in the
split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. It would
be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate and the tax rate on Americans
earning more than $400,000 a year.