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Senate Approves Bipartisan, $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Bringing Major Biden Goal One Step Closer
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=54167"><span class="small">Tony Romm, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Tuesday, 10 August 2021 12:40

Romm writes: "The Senate on Tuesday approved a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the nation's roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections, advancing a historic burst in federal spending after years of failed attempts on Capitol Hill to invest anew in the country's aging infrastructure."

President Joe Biden with bipartisan group of Senators. (photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty)
President Joe Biden with bipartisan group of Senators. (photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty)

Senate Approves Bipartisan, $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Bringing Major Biden Goal One Step Closer

By Tony Romm, The Washington Post

10 August 21

Democrats along with 19 Republicans approved the public-works package in a Tuesday morning vote, teeing it up soon for the House

he Senate on Tuesday approved a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and Internet connections, advancing a historic burst in federal spending after years of failed attempts on Capitol Hill to invest anew in the country’s aging infrastructure.

The 69-to-30 vote follows weeks of turbulent private talks and fierce public debates that sometimes teetered on collapse, as the White House labored alongside Democrats and Republicans to achieve the sort of deal that had eluded them for years. Even though the proposal must still clear the House, where some Democrats recently have raised concerns the measure falls short of what they seek, the Senate outcome moves the bill one step closer to delivering President Biden his first major bipartisan win.

The package, nearly half of which constitutes new spending, would mark the most significant investment in the country’s inner workings since Congress marshaled a massive yet smaller rescue bill in the shadow of the Great Recession. It would combine lawmakers’ desire for immediate, urgently needed fixes to the country’s crumbling infrastructure with longer-term goals to combat challenges including climate change.

The bill proposes more than $110 billion to replace and repair roads, bridges and highways, and $66 billion to boost passenger and freight rail. That transit investment marks the most significant infusion of cash in the country’s railways since the creation of Amtrak about half a century ago, the White House said.

The infrastructure plan includes an additional $55 billion to address lingering issues in the U.S. water supply, such as an effort to replace every lead pipe in the nation. It allocates $65 billion to modernize the country’s power grid. And it devotes billions in additional sums to rehabilitating waterways, improving airports and expanding broadband Internet service, particularly after a pandemic that forced Americans to conduct much of their lives online.

Lawmakers also agreed to authorize a significant tranche of funding to improve the environment and respond to the oft-deadly consequences of a fast-warming planet. The aid includes $7.5 billion to build out a national network of electric-vehicle charging stations, a major priority for Biden, who has worked to advance the next generation of emissions-friendly vehicles. And it apportions $47 billion to respond to wildfires, droughts, coastal erosion, heat waves and other climate crises that previously have wrought significant economic havoc nationwide.

In recent weeks, Biden has hailed the proposal, which the White House helped craft alongside its chief congressional sponsors, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). The two for weeks shepherded a group of 10 lawmakers from both parties toward a compromise that could thread a needle — proffering the massive investments Biden initially sought without raising alarm among spending-wary Republicans.

The result is a bill that is less than the roughly $2.2 trillion American Jobs Plan that Biden put forward this spring, but one that every chamber Democrat along with 19 Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could still support. Democratic leaders have pledged to pursue the rest of their spending priorities as part of a second $3.5 trillion measure they are set to start debating later Tuesday.

“It will improve the lives of all Americans,” Portman said in a floor speech over the weekend as lawmakers prepared to vote. “People do expect here in America, [with] this great economy we have, we should also be able to lead the world in infrastructure. But we don’t.”

Lawmakers jettisoned Biden’s plan to raise taxes on corporations to finance the new infrastructure investments, a nonstarter for Republicans, who strained to protect the tax cuts they instituted under President Donald Trump four years ago. Instead, their new legislative effort relies on a mix of odd measures — and potential budgetary gimmicks — to try to offset its cost. An official analysis of the bill by the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday found that lawmakers fell short, threatening to add more than $250 billion to the deficit over the next decade.

The sour score set the stage for one of the only significant fights over the bill. The spending concerns prompted Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) to block the chamber from adopting the infrastructure measure swiftly over the weekend, arguing that Democrats should not be able to expedite passage of a work product that he said had not been paid for in full.

“We must fight to preserve our American system and the American Dream, not — in a tornado of hurried legislative activity — seal its decline,” Hagerty said in a floor speech Saturday.

In doing so, Hagerty’s opposition opened a rift between Democrats and Republicans over potential amendments, because changes to the bill’s timeline as well as its text required some measure of unanimous consent. The standoff ultimately prevented senators from making at least one key change to the bill, targeting highly disputed rules that require cryptocurrency investors and brokers to report more information to the Internal Revenue Service for tax purposes.

Broadly, though, lawmakers managed to avoid the same intractable fights that have scuttled other legislative efforts this year to regulate guns, change voting laws and investigate the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. An earlier effort between the White House and top GOP senators to work out a compromise on infrastructure similarly fell short, illustrating the fragile victory that the Senate achieved in advancing a bill with Biden’s backing.

At the same time, the moment of political accord threatened to be short lived. Immediately, Senate Democrats pivoted to debate on their roughly $3.5 trillion budget measure that seeks to advance all of the spending that infrastructure negotiators omitted from their bill. Democrats unveiled the blueprint Monday, and intend to pass it this week, under a fast-track timeline that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) set out in the weeks leading up to the Senate’s summer recess.

“Other parts of our infrastructure, not addressed by this bipartisan bill, still need focused attention and help,” Schumer said before the vote, citing areas including climate change. He added the Senate intends to adopt a budget that makes "generational transformation in these areas.”

Republicans are expected to unanimously oppose that $3.5 trillion outline, which Democrats say will expand Medicare, invest new sums to combat global warming and boost federal programs that aid parents and children. Unlike infrastructure reform, Democrats intend to bypass the GOP and advance it through a process known as reconciliation, which requires them to attain a majority to proceed rather than the usual 60 votes.

Motivating some of the party’s lawmakers is a belief that the Senate’s bipartisan plan on its own is inadequate to tackle the country’s economic challenges. Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), who oversees the top infrastructure committee in the chamber, as recently as last week said the process is “not a done deal.”

“As the Senate wraps up its work on a bipartisan infrastructure bill and sends it over to the House, I will continue to push for the inclusion of transformational policies that support American workers, tackle the climate crisis, and catapult our infrastructure into the 21st century and beyond wherever they can be included,” he said in a statement ahead of its adoption.

Other House Democrats, meanwhile, have emphasized in recent days they aren’t even willing to begin debating infrastructure until the Senate completes its work on a reconciliation package. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, reiterated that pledge this week on behalf of her powerful bloc of lawmakers, without whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) cannot proceed. In a recent interview, Jayapal stressed there are “not going to be votes for the bipartisan bill without votes for the reconciliation bill.”

The successful vote Tuesday comes after months of bickering between lawmakers and the White House over Biden’s broader agenda, which he termed “Build Back Better," dating back to the 2020 presidential campaign. Biden sought to deliver Washington its long-sought infrastructure ambitions after years of false starts under Trump, who could never coalesce Congress around a deal.

The legislative saga began in the spring, after Biden released his jobs plan and invited GOP lawmakers led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) to the White House for a series of ill-fated talks. The two sides after weeks of discussions could not agree on a total amount for infrastructure spending, much less how to pay for it, leading Biden in June to end negotiations amid public sniping between the two parties.

As that endeavor collapsed, a second group of 10 Democratic and Republican senators began to huddle on their own in pursuit of a deal. Lawmakers including Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark R. Warner (Va.) and Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine) met alongside Biden’s top aides in a series of late-night sessions at the Capitol — often over bottles of wine — as they hammered out what became a blueprint for a $1.2 trillion outline released in late June.

The fraught process nearly fell apart only days after they announced their agreement. Biden had threatened at a public event that he could veto a bipartisan public-works deal unless Congress also adopted a larger budget that included his other spending priorities, including his roughly $1.9 trillion families plan. Republicans saw the comment as evidence the White House might not be negotiating in good faith, prompting the president to issue a corrective statement that eventually got the two sides back on track.

It still took weeks of haggling — and pressure applied from Schumer as well as the looming summer recess — before Democrats and Republicans could produce the 2,702-page bill they adopted Tuesday. They had warred in private over differences about how to spend the money in areas like transit and broadband, and how to pay for the spending. Republicans at one point even upended the talks over their concerns about a plan to raise funding for infrastructure through enhanced enforcement of federal tax laws, resulting in the proposal’s removal from the deal.

But when lawmakers gathered on the Senate floor to reveal their final product — delivering several speeches in early August touting the wide-ranging benefits of their proposed investments — they hailed their long-sought accomplishment as a sign the Senate is still a functional body.

“I know it has been difficult, and I know it has been long, and what I am proud to say is that is what our forefathers intended,” Sinema said. your social media marketing partner