$1 Trillion Infrastructure Deal Scales Senate Hurdle With Bipartisan Vote
WASHINGTON – The Senate voted on Wednesday to pass a $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill that would allow large-scale investments in the nation’s public works system, as Republicans join Democrats to open the way to action on a critical piece of President Biden’s agenda.
The 67-32 vote, which included 17 Republicans in favor, came just hours after centrist senators from both parties and the White House reached a long-sought compromise on the bill, which would provide an estimated $ 550 billion. dollars in new federal funds for roads. , bridges, rail, transit, water and other physical infrastructure programs.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a longtime foil of major legislation pushed by Democratic presidents, was among those supporting the advancement. Mr McConnell’s backer signaled that his party was – at least for now – open to teaming up with Democrats to implement the plan.
The deal still faces several hurdles to becoming law, including its transformation into formal legislation and the approval of final votes in the tightly divided Senate and House. But the vote was a victory for a president who has long vowed to break the partisan deadlock that gripped Congress and accomplish great things backed by members of both political parties.
If passed, the measure would be the largest injection of federal funds into the public works system in more than a decade.
The compromise, which was still being drafted on Wednesday, includes $ 110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $ 66 billion for passenger and freight rail transportation; $ 39 billion for public transit; $ 65 billion for broadband; $ 17 billion for ports and waterways; and $ 46 billion to help states and cities prepare for droughts, wildfires, floods and other consequences of climate change, according to a White House official who detailed it under the guise of ‘anonymity.
In a lengthy statement, Biden hailed the deal as “the single most important long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.”
He also presented it as a justification for his belief in bipartisanship.
“Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal,” Biden said. “But that’s what it means to compromise and forge consensus – the heart of democracy. As the deal moves through the Senate as a whole, there is still a lot of work to be done to bring this home. There will be disagreements to be resolved and more compromises to be forged along the way. “
This was evident on Wednesday even as the president and senators from both parties applauded their agreement. In negotiating it, Biden and Democratic leaders were forced to agree to concessions, accepting less new federal funds for transit and clean energy projects than they had wanted, including for some electric vehicle charging stations, and dropping their push for additional funding for the application of taxes to the IRS (a senior Democratic official noted that Democrats had secured an expansion of transit and freeway programs existing since 2015, the last time such legislation was enacted.)
The changes – and the omission of some of their highest priorities – angered progressives in both houses, with some threatening to oppose the bill unless it is amended.
“From what we’ve heard, having seen no text, this bill is going to be the status quo, the policy of the 1950s with one tiny little addition,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio of the Oregon, Democrat and Chairman of the Transport and Infrastructure Commission.
“If that’s what I think,” he added, “I will oppose it.
Yet the bipartisan compromise was a crucial part of Mr. Biden’s $ 4 trillion economic program, which Democrats plan to pair with a $ 3.5 trillion budget plan that would provide additional climate spending, the health care and education, to be beefed up by Congress despite Republicans’ objections. .
The vote to move forward with the infrastructure bill came after weeks of haggling by a bipartisan group of Senators and White House officials to translate a plan they agreed to the end of last month in legislation. Just last week, Senate Republicans unanimously blocked consideration of the plan, saying there were too many unresolved differences. But on Wednesday, after days of frantic talks and late-night phone calls and texts between senators and White House officials, negotiators announced they were ready to proceed.
“We look forward to moving forward and having the opportunity to have a healthy debate here in the chamber regarding an incredibly important project to the American people,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of the United States. Ohio and chief negotiator.
Many of the spending provisions in the bill remain unchanged from the original agreement. But it appeared he cut spending in a few areas, including cutting funds for public transit to $ 39 billion from $ 49 billion, and eliminating a $ 20 billion “infrastructure bank”. dollars intended to catalyze private investment in major projects. Negotiators could not agree on the structure of the bank and the terms of its funding authority, so they did away with it altogether.
The loss of the infrastructure bank appeared to cut funding for electric vehicle charging stations in half that administration officials said was included in the original deal, undermining Mr Biden’s promise to create a network of 500,000 charging stations nationwide.
The new deal also included significant changes in how infrastructure spending will be paid, after Republicans resisted backing one pillar of the original framework: increased revenue from an IRS crackdown. against tax evasion, which was to provide nearly a fifth of the funding for the scheme.
Instead of that lost revenue, negotiators agreed to reallocate more than $ 250 billion from previous pandemic aid legislation, including $ 50 billion in expanded unemployment benefits that were prematurely canceled this summer. by two dozen Republican governors, according to a fact sheet reviewed by The New York Times. That’s more than double the money reallocated in the original deal.
The new deal would save $ 50 billion by delaying a Medicare reimbursement rule passed under President Donald J. Trump and raise nearly $ 30 billion by enforcing crypto-tax reporting requirements. cash. He is also proposing to recover $ 50 billion in fraudulently paid unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Tax hawks were quick to dismiss some of these funding mechanisms as overly optimistic or accounting stuff, and warned that the deal would increase the federal budget deficit over time. But business groups and some moderates in Washington were quick to praise the deal.
Jack Howard, senior vice president of government affairs at the United States Chamber of Commerce, who has worked for months to negotiate a bipartisan deal that does not include a corporate tax increase, said the spending in the agreement “will bring enormous benefits to the United States.” people and the economy.
“Our nation has been waiting for infrastructure upgrades for over a decade,” he said, “and this is a critical step in the process.”
At a lunch Wednesday, the Republicans who spearheaded the deal handed out binders containing a summary of what could be a 1,000-page bill. The group of 10 lead negotiators finally held a celebratory press conference in which they thanked their colleagues on both sides for their support.
“It’s not perfect but it is, I think, in a good place,” said Republican Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who voted to pass the bill.
After the vote, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, expressed optimism that the Senate would be able to pass not only the bipartisan infrastructure package, but also the budget plan for 3.5 trillion dollars needed to unlock the much larger reconciliation package ahead. the rest of Mr. Biden’s agenda.
“My goal remains to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution during this working period – both,” Schumer said, warning of “long nights” and weekend sessions. “We’re going to get the job done and we’re on the right track. “
Democrats still need to get the bill through the equally divided Senate, maintaining the support of the 50 Democrats and Independents and at least 10 Republicans. It could take at least a week, especially if Republicans who oppose it choose to slow the process down. If the measure clears the Senate, it is also expected to pass the House, where some Liberal Democrats have balked at emerging details.
But Republicans who negotiated the deal urged colleagues to back a measure they said would provide much needed funding for infrastructure projects across the country.
“I am amazed that there are some who oppose this, just because they think that if you ever do something one way or another, it is a sign of weakness,” he said. said Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana.
California President Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly stated that she will not pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House until the much more ambitious $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill has not passed by the Senate.
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the leading Democratic negotiator for the infrastructure deal and a key moderate vote, released a statement Wednesday saying she does not support such a costly plan, although she would not seek to block it. The comments prompted several Liberals in the House to threaten to reject the bipartisan deal she helped negotiate, underscoring the fragility of the compromise.
“Good luck investing your own party in child care, climate action and infrastructure while assuming you survive a 3-vote margin in the House,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, written in a tweet. “Especially after choosing to exclude members of color from the negotiations and calling it a ‘bipartisan achievement’.”
The report was provided by Nicolas fandos, Davenport Coral, Catie edmondson and Lisa Friedman.
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