After weeks of delays, the Senate voted to start work on a national infrastructure plan worth nearly $1 trillion. This sudden action came after the White House and a bipartisan group negotiated major provisions for the package that is key to President Joe Biden’s agenda.
Biden welcomed the agreement as one that would demonstrate America can do “big things.” He said it included the largest long-term investments in almost a century. It was on par with the construction of the transcontinental railroad and the Interstate highway system.
Biden stated that the deal “signals to the world our democracy can function,” before Wednesday’s vote. “We will once more transform America and propel America into the future.”
After weeks of negotiations, the rare bipartisan vote on a 67 to 32 vote to open formal Senate consideration demonstrated the senators’ high interest in the infrastructure package. It’s not clear if enough Republicans will support final passage.
Senate rules require that there be 60 votes in the equally divided 50-50 chamber for this bill to be considered and passed. This means both parties need support.
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 the bill and would need a simple majority to pass it. They may attempt to block both.
Lead GOP negotiator Sen. Ohio senator Rob Portman announced the agreement of the bipartisan group on the $1 trillion package earlier Wednesday, flanked at the Capitol by four Republican senators who had been involved in negotiations with Democrats and representatives from the White House.
Portman stated that the vote showed bipartisanship can work in Washington and that he believes GOP support will only grow. Portman said, “That’s pretty darn great for a start.”
This group worked with the White House in an effort to save the deal, which was a first step in Biden’s big infrastructure agenda. The bill, which has more than 700 pages, includes $550 billion in new public works spending.
17 Republican senators voted to start the debate with the Democrats, but many remained skeptical. During a private lunch, the GOP senators received a thick booklet of briefing materials. However, they had many questions and wanted more information.
The Associated Press obtained a 57-page GOP summary. It states that the five-year spending plan would be funded by $205 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief assistance and $53 billion in unemployment aid some states have halted. It also depends on economic growth for $56 billion and other measures.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP’s leader, announced that he would vote for the motion to proceed. However, it is not clear if he will vote for the final bill. Portman stated that McConnell had been supportive of our efforts “all along” when the Republican negotiators met earlier Wednesday.
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.”
The timeline for implementing some of the most important pieces of legislation since years is limited by the Democrats who hold a slim majority of the Senate and House.
Since June, when a bipartisan group made an agreement with Biden over the broad framework, filling out the details has been a tedious task for a month.
Senators stated that the new spending was down from $600 billion to $550billion in the package. This was because money was cut for a public/private infrastructure bank, and it was also reduced in other categories like transit.
According to a White House factsheet, the package still includes $110 million for highways, $65 Billion for broadband, and $73 Billion to modernize America’s electric grid.
There are also $25 billion allocated for airports, $55 million for waterworks, and $50 billion to support infrastructure against cyberattacks or climate change. A $7.5 billion fund is available for electric vehicle charging stations.
The negotiations have been slow to pay for the package. Democrats rejected a plan that would have raised the gas tax drivers paid at the pump. Republicans resisted an attempt to increase the IRS’s ability to pursue tax scofflaws.
Other revenue sources include the sale of broadcast spectrum and reinstating fees paid by chemical companies to clean up hazardous waste sites. There would also be a reversal of a Trump-era rebate on pharmaceuticals that could generate $49 billion.
If the final agreement is not fully paid for by the Congressional Budget Office, it could land in political trouble. Portman stated that the package would be more than what it was paid for.
The House Democrats have their transportation bill. It includes more funding for rail transit, electric cars, and other strategies to combat climate change.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that she is “rooting for” the package, but she didn’t commit to it until she saw the details.
Pelosi stated, “I want it to happen.”
A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC found 8 in 10 Americans favor some increased infrastructure spending.
The bipartisan group has been gathering privately for several months by senators. This group is made up of 10 core negotiators. They are evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. However, it has sometimes risen to 22.
Transit funding remains a contentious issue, since most Republican senators hail from rural states, where roads dominate and public transportation is scarce. Democrats, on the other hand, see transit as a priority for cities, and as a key to combating climate change and easing congestion.
Broadband access should be expanded. This has been vital for households since the outbreak of coronavirus, and has sparked a new debate. Republicans opposed imposing regulations on internet service providers as part of a program that helps low income people pay for services.
The Democrats are currently preparing the $3.5 trillion larger package. It is being considered according to budget rules that allow passage with 51 senators from the split Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris was able break a tie. It would be funded by raising the corporate tax rate, and the tax rate for Americans who earn more than $400,000 per year.