UPDATE: Big win for $1T infrastructure bill: Senate shows it can act

Politics

WASHINGTON (AP) — With a robust vote after weeks of fits and starts, the Senate approved a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan on Tuesday, a rare coalition of Democrats and Republicans joining to overcome skeptics and deliver a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The 69-30 tally provides momentum for this first phase of Biden’s “Build Back Better” priorities, now headed to the House. A sizable number of lawmakers showed they were willing to set aside partisan pressures, eager to send billions to their states for rebuilding roads, broadband internet, water pipes and the public works systems that underpin much of American life.

Infrastructure was once a mainstay of lawmaking, but the weeks-long slog to strike a compromise showed how hard it has become for Congress to tackle routine legislating, even on shared priorities.

“There’s been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The outline for Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package is next up for the Senate — a more liberal undertaking of child care, elder care and other programs that is much more partisan and expected to draw only Democratic support. That debate is expected to extend into the fall.

Tuesday’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act started with a group of 10 senators who seized on Biden’s campaign promise to draft a scaled-down version of his initial $2.3 trillion proposal, one that could more broadly appeal to both parties in the narrowly divided Congress, especially the 50-50 Senate.

It swelled to a 2,700-page bill backed by the president and also business, labor and farm interests. It drew an expansive alliance of senators and a bipartisan group in the House.

Vice President Kamala Harris, as presiding officer, announced the final Senate tally.

While liberal lawmakers said the package doesn’t go far enough as a down-payment on Biden’s priorities and conservatives said it is too costly and should be more fully paid for, the coalition of centrist senators was able to hold. Even a barrage of broadsides from former President Donald Trump could not bring the bill down.

“This infrastructure bill is not the perfect bill,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, one of the negotiators. She said the senators kept at it, believing, “It’s better to get some of what our constituents want rather than none of it.”

The measure proposes nearly $550 billion in new spending over five years in addition to current federal authorizations for public works that will reach virtually every corner of the country — a potentially historic expenditure Biden has put on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system.

There’s money to rebuild roads and bridges, and also to shore up coastlines against climate change, protect public utility systems from cyberattacks and modernize the electric grid. Public transit gets a boost, as do airports and freight rail. Most lead drinking water pipes in America could be replaced.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator, said the proposals have been talked about for years, yet never seem to get done, including for a bridge across the Ohio River between his state and Kentucky.

“We’ll be getting it right for the American people,” he said.

The top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, said rarely will a piece of legislation affect so many Americans. She gave a nod to the late fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain and said she was trying to follow his example to “reach bipartisan agreements that try to bring the country together.”

Drafted during the COVID-19 crisis, the bill would provide $65 billion for broadband, a provision Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, negotiated because she said the coronavirus pandemic showed that such service “is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.” States will receive money to expand broadband and make it more affordable.

Despite the momentum, action slowed last weekend when Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican allied with Trump, refused to speed up the process.

Trump had called his one-time Japan ambassador and cheered him on, but it’s unclear if the former president’s views still carry as much sway with most senators. Trump issued fresh complaints hours before Tuesday’s vote. He had tried and failed to pass his own infrastructure bill during his time in the White House.

Other Republican senators objected to the size, scope and financing of the package, particularly concerned after the Congressional Budget Office said it would add $256 billion to deficits over the decade.

Two Republicans, Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana, had been part of initial negotiations shaping the package but ultimately opposed it.

“My efforts to reach a compromise were honest & sincere, & unfortunately, we were unable to arrive at a bill I could support,” Moran said in a tweet.

Rather than pressure his colleagues, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has stayed behind the scenes for much of the bipartisan work. He allowed the voting to proceed, and may benefit from enabling this package in a stroke of bipartisanship while trying to stop Biden’s next big effort. He voted for passage on Tuesday.

Unlike the $3.5 trillion second package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is to be funded by repurposing other money, including some COVID-19 aid.

The bill’s backers argue that the budget office’s analysis was unable to take into account certain revenue streams that will help offset its costs — including from future economic growth.

Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments, but none substantially changed its framework.

The House is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages together, but centrist lawmakers urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the bipartisan plan forward quickly, and they raised concerns about the bigger bill, in a sign of the complicated politics still ahead.


WASHINGTON (AP) — Overcoming skeptics, the Senate is poised to approve the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan Tuesday, with a growing coalition of Democrats and Republicans prepared to lift the first phase of President Joe Biden’s rebuilding agenda to passage.

Final votes are expected around 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, and the bill would then go to the House.

All told, some 70 senators appear poised to carry the bipartisan package to approval, a potentially robust tally of lawmakers eager to tap the billions in new spending for their states and to show voters back home they can deliver.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier, “There’s been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America.”

After final voting on infrastructure, the Senate will immediately launch votes on Biden’s next package — the $3.5 trillion plan that is a more strictly Democratic undertaking — beginning a debate that will extend into fall.

Infrastructure was once a mainstay of lawmaking, but the weekslong slog to strike a bipartisan compromise shows how hard it has become for Congress to tackle routine legislating, even on shared priorities.

For now, the often elusive political center is holding steady, and growing, a rare partnership with Biden’s White House.

On the left, the Democrats have withstood the complaints of liberals who say the proposal falls short of what’s needed to provide a down payment on one of the president’s top priorities.

From the right, the Republicans are largely ignoring the criticism from their most conservative and far-flung voices, including a barrage of name-calling from former President Donald Trump as he tries to derail the package.

Together, a sizable number of business, farm and labor groups back the package, which proposes nearly $550 billion in new spending on what are typically mainstays of federal spending — roads, bridges, broadband internet, water pipes and other public works systems that cities and states often cannot afford on their own.

“This has been a different sort of process,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator of the group of 10 senators who drafted the package.

Portman, a White House budget director for George W. Bush, said the investments being made have been talked about for years, yet never seem to get done.

He said, “We’ll be getting it right for the American people.”

The top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, said she was trying to follow the example of fellow Arizonan John McCain to “reach bipartisan agreements that try to bring the country together.”

Still, not all senators are on board, Despite the momentum, action ground to a halt over the weekend when Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican allied with Trump, refused to speed up the process.

Other Republican senators objected to the size, scope and financing of the package, particularly concerned after the Congressional Budget Office said it would add $256 billion to deficits over the decade.

Two Republicans, Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana, had been part of initial negotiations shaping the package but ultimately announced they could not support it.

Rather than pressure lawmakers, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has stayed behind the scenes for much of the bipartisan work. He has cast his own votes repeatedly to allow the bill to progress, calling the bill a compromise.

Trump called Hagerty, who had been his ambassador to Japan, on Sunday and the senator argued for taking more time for debate and amendments, in part because he wants to slow the march toward Biden’s second phase, the $3.5 trillion bill that Republicans fully oppose.

The outline for the bigger $3.5 trillion package is on deck next in the Senate — a more liberal undertaking of child care, elder care and other programs that expected to draw only Democratic support. Senators are expected Tuesday to launch a lengthy session to consider amendments to the blueprint, the start of a months-long debate on the package.

Unlike Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is to be funded by repurposing other money, and with other spending cuts and revenue streams. The bill’s backers argue that the budget office’s analysis was unable to take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth.

Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments to the 2,700-page package, but so far none has substantially changed its framework.

One remaining issue, over tax compliance for cryptocurrency brokers, appeared close to being resolved after senators announced they had worked with the Treasury Department to clarify the intent.

But an effort to quickly adopt the cryptocurrency compromise was derailed by senators who wanted their own amendments, including one to add $50 billion for shipbuilding and other defense infrastructure. It’s unclear if any further amendments will be adopted.

The House is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages when it returns from recess in September.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the two bills will be considered together, but on Monday a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers urged her to bring their smaller plan forward quickly, raising concerns about the bigger bill, in a sign of the complicated politics ahead.

“This once-in-a-century investment deserves its own consideration,” wrote Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., Jared Golden, D-Maine, and others in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “We cannot afford unnecessary delays.”

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