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Senate Passes $1.2 Trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 8/10/2021 Lisa Hagen
Lisa Murkowski, Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney standing next to a person in a suit and tie: The Associated Press © The Associated Press The Associated Press

The Senate on Tuesday easily passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, a major bipartisan achievement that temporarily cuts through the intense polarization on Capitol Hill while also bolstering a central tenet of President Joe Biden's economic agenda.

The legislation only needed a simple majority for final passage, but the Senate voted, 69-30, to finish up its work on physical infrastructure and move $550 billion in new spending over to the House. All Democrats supported the bill and were joined by 19 Republicans, including Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Congress hasn't passed significant infrastructure spending in years, and this legislation would inject $550 billion in new spending to rebuild and invest in roads, bridges, ports, airports, broadband, transit, and water and electric vehicle chargers. If the bill goes on to pass the House, it would also constitute a huge victory for Biden in his first year in office. Infrastructure and federal COVID-19 relief, which passed earlier this year, have been his two biggest goals thus far.

"It's been a long and winding road, but we have persisted and now we have arrived," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday. "Today, the Senate takes a decades-overdue step to revitalize America's infrastructure and give our workers, our businesses, our economy the tools to succeed in the 21st century."

He thanked the bipartisan Senate group and Biden for their steadfast work on the bill but segued to the upper chamber's imminent efforts on the budget resolution.

"To my colleagues who are concerned that this does not do enough on climate, for families, and making corporations and the rich pay their fair share, we are moving onto a second track which will make generational transformation in these areas," Schumer added.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act came together after months of negotiations between a core group of senators from both parties that grew to 22 and the White House's economic team. Biden and the group announced a deal in principle outside of the White House in late June, but it still took weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering to work out final spending and funding mechanisms.

Senators wanted the legislation to be fully paid for, but a cost analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that only half of the new spending would be covered while the bill would add $256 billion to the federal deficit over 10 years. The CBO score reaffirmed conservatives' opposition to the bill – including some members of GOP leadership – but ultimately didn't undermine its ability to clear the upper chamber.


Video: U.S. Senate pushes ahead with $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill (Reuters)

Senators worked back-to-back weekends to finish the infrastructure bill, which also easily cleared the 60-vote threshold on a series of procedural votes and overcame potential filibusters. The bill heads across the Capitol, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has said she won't take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate also sends over Democrats' spending plan through the budget reconciliation process.

But the political Kumbaya in the Senate lasted for only a few hours Tuesday.

With physical infrastructure completed in the upper chamber, the Senate will now immediately move to consideration and a long vote series on Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which includes the rest of Biden's agenda but this time won't garner any Republican support.

Following the vote on final passage of the bipartisan bill, the Senate will take up the motion to proceed to the budget measure and then move to a vote-a-rama – a long vote series on non-binding amendments that typically last for hours and can drag into the night.

Because Democrats will use the budget reconciliation process, they'll be able to advance the budget resolution and the forthcoming reconciliation bill with only a simple majority of 51 votes instead of 60 to bypass potential filibusters.

Once the Senate passes the $3.5 trillion measure with reconciliation instructions, a number of committees will have at least a month to draft legislation that'll cover many of Biden and the Democratic Party's priorities surrounding families, climate, health care, infrastructure and jobs.

All 50 Senate Democrats have agreed to at least start the reconciliation process but they expect a lot of haggling over crafting the final product. Some moderates worry about the size of the $3.5 trillion price tag and indicate that they won't support it in its current form. Progressives, who were initially aiming for a higher number, meanwhile fear compromise on the reconciliation bill will cut out key issues like climate-related ones that were left out of the bipartisan legislation.

Democrats will need to spend the next few weeks – or months – getting their ideologically diverse caucus on board in both chambers so they can fully pass both infrastructure bills. The party will eventually need uniform support and zero defections – plus Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote – since they will get no help from Republicans.

Republicans are making it clear that Democrats are now on their own when it comes to any further spending. McConnell dedicated his floor speech before any of Tuesday's votes solely to the upcoming work on the budget resolution. The quick pivot from the infrastructure legislation to a solo Democratic bill highlighted that bipartisan relations on Capitol Hill may only be fleeting.

"Later today, Senate Democrats want to take their next big step toward playing Russian roulette with our country. They want to begin pushing through a reckless taxing and spending spree that was authored by our self-described socialist colleague, (Senate Budget Committee) Chairman (Bernie) Sanders," he said. "Today, the American people will learn exactly where each of their senators stand."

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