by Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freaking and Alan Fram
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate voted Wednesday night to begin work on a nearly $1 trillion national infrastructure plan after President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement on key provisions of the package an important part of the agenda.
Biden welcomed the agreement, which would show the US “can do big things” – with the most significant long-term investment in nearly a century, he said, the equivalent of building the Transcontinental Railroad or the Interstate Highway System.
“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can work,” Biden said in a statement. “We will once again change America and propel us into the future.”
The rare bipartisan performance, on a 67-32 vote, signals interest among senators in starting the process to consider an infrastructure package. But it is unclear whether enough Republicans will eventually join the Democrats to support the final route. Longer views on the procedural step are expected to begin Wednesday night.
Rob Portman, the lead GOP negotiator from Ohio, announced the settlement of the first bipartisan group at the Capitol, along with four other Republican senators who have been in weeks of talks with Democrats and the White House on the package.
That group has worked with the White House to salvage the deal, the first part of Biden’s larger infrastructure agenda. The bill, spanning more than 700 pages, includes $550 billion in new spending for public works projects.
In all, 17 Republican senators joined Democrats in voting to start the debate on Wednesday, but most remain skeptical. GOP senators were given a rough binder of briefing materials during a private lunch, but they asked many questions and wanted more details.
The payment of a five-year spending package has been halted by some states by tapping $205 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid, according to a 57-page GOP summary obtained by The Associated Press. It also depends on economic growth to bring in $56 billion and other measures.
The result will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s more ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan effort to far-reach programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that cover nearly every corner of American life. touches. Republicans strongly oppose that bill, and may try to block both.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the Senate, along with talks, announcing a possible evening vote. It takes 60 votes for an equally divided 50-50 Senate to proceed to consideration and eventually pass the bill, meaning the support of both sides.
In a boost to this, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell announced late Wednesday that he would vote to go ahead, though whether he would support the final bill remains uncertain. Republican negotiators met with McConnell on Wednesday and Portman said the leader is “always encouraging our efforts.”
Kirsten Cinema of Arizona, a prominent Democratic negotiator who frequently speaks with Republicans, said she also spoke with Biden on Wednesday and was “very excited” to strike a deal.
Democrats, who have thin control of the House and Senate, are faced with a timeline to act on what will be some of the most important pieces of legislation in years.
Filling out the details has become a month-long exercise since a bipartisan group of senators struck a deal with Biden in June over a broad framework.
New spending in the package fell by about $600 billion to $550 billion, the senators said, as public-private infrastructure ran out of money for the bank and was reduced in other categories, including transit.
According to a White House fact sheet, the package still includes $110 billion for highways, $65 billion for broadband and $73 billion to modernize the country’s electric grid.
Additionally, $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for waterworks and more than $50 billion to strengthen infrastructure against cyberattacks and climate change. There is also $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.
Pay for the package has been a slog throughout the conversation, when Democrats rejected a plan to bring in money by increasing the pay of gas tax drivers at the pump, and Republicans slammed an effort to promote the IRS to go after the tax scofflaw. Crashed.
Along with reintroducing COVID-19 relief and unemployment aid, other revenue will come from the sale of broadcast spectrum, restoring fees that chemical companies used to pay to clean up the nation’s most hazardous waste sites and reversing a Trump-era $49 billion from Drug discounts among other sources.
The final deal could be in political trouble if it doesn’t pass muster as the Congressional Budget Office is fully paid to assess the details. But Portman said the package would “more than pay for”.
House Democrats have their own transportation bill, which includes much more spending to address rail transit, electric vehicles and other strategies to combat climate change.
The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. called the Senate’s bipartisan measure complete “nonsense” during a private meeting Tuesday, who attended the session and spoke on condition of anonymity. describe it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not commit to supporting the package until seeing the details, but said on Wednesday she “contained for it.”
“I really want this to pass,” Pelosi said.
A recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC found that 8 in 10 Americans favor some increased infrastructure spending.
The bipartisan group’s senators have been working privately for months. The group consists of 10 main negotiators, split equally between Democrats and Republicans, but at times has grown to 22.
Transit funding remains a stubborn dispute, as most Republican senators come from rural states where highways dominate and public transit is scarce, while Democrats see transit as a priority for cities and to reduce congestion and climate change. Fighting is the key. Democrats don’t want to see the formula drop below their typical formula of about 80% for highways and 20% for transit.
Expanding access to broadband. A new debate has sprung up as to which has become more important to households during the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans pushed back against imposing rules on Internet service providers in a program that helps low-income people pay for service.
Cinema said transit and broadband were the remaining issues that were being addressed on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing a comprehensive $3.5 trillion package, considered under budget rules, to allow passage with 51 senators in a divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. It would be paid by raising the corporate tax rate and the tax rate on Americans to more than $400,000 per year.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Josh Bock in Washington and Tali Arbel in New York contributed to this report.