Friday, October 15, 2021

Still Waiting, Senate Grinds On $1T Infrastructure Bill

by Kevin Freaking and Lisa Mascaro

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday that a vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package could happen “in a matter of days.” But first, senators still have to end up writing huge legislation.

Schumer began Rare Sunday’s session by saying that the text of the bill would be released “imminently.” To be called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it is expanding to 2,700 pages. But as the glitches were detected and changes were made, the day of the start and end was turning into an evening Senate session.

Two interlocutors said on Sunday morning that action could be taken soon. “We’re really about to end,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Main, said on CNN. Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.VA, said on CNN that “there are likely to be lessons by today and this evening, hopefully we can start the process.” Like Schumer, both said the bill could end this week.

Senators and staff have been working behind the scenes for days to write what is certain is a substantial piece of legislation and an important part of President Joe Biden’s agenda. It calls for $550 billion in new spending over five years above projected federal levels, which in years could be more significant spending on the nation’s roads, bridges, waterworks, broadband and electric grids.

To work together, Schumer is hiring senators over the weekend to draft the bill so that senators can begin offering amendments. But it takes a weekend fits and starts as senators.

“They need a little more time,” Schumer said late Saturday, “I’m ready to give them.”

Schumer warned on Saturday that he is prepared to keep lawmakers in Washington as long as it is ready to complete votes on both a bipartisan infrastructure plan as well as a budget blueprint that will allow the Senate to do so. The $3.5 trillion social, health and environmental bill will allow work to begin on a large scale at the end of the year.

“The longer it takes to finish it, the longer we’ll be here, but we’re going to get the job done,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, predicted: “It’s going to be a grind.”

Major investments in the bipartisan package include $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transport and $66 billion for rail. There is also $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure as well as airports, seaports, broadband Internet and electric vehicle charging stations.

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After negotiators rejected ideas of raising revenue from a new gas tax or other streams, the package is being financed from funding sources that may not pass muster with loss-making hawks, including unused COVID-19 relief. This includes reusing aid and relying on projected future economic growth. But so far bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic senators has stymied the process.

Schumer wants voting wrapped up on both a bipartisan package and a $3.5 trillion blueprint to get started on the bigger package before senators leave for the August recess.

The results of the bipartisan effort will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s more ambitious $3.5 trillion package, a strictly partisan effort of far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that touch nearly every corner of the US. life. Republicans strongly oppose the bill, which would require a simple majority, and may try to block both. Not expected until the final vote on that falls.

Last week, 17 GOP senators joined all Democrats in voting to begin work on the bill. That support has largely been organized with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voting yes in another procedural vote to push the process forward.

Whether the number of Republican senators willing to pass the bill increases or decreases in the coming days will determine whether the president’s signature issue can eliminate it.

Cornyn said he hoped Schumer would give all senators a chance to shape the bill and allow amendments from members of both sides.

“I hope we can now brake a little and take the time and care to evaluate the benefits and costs of this legislation,” Cornyn said.

As the wait for the bill dragged on, Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, said Saturday that negotiators were finalizing the final few pieces.

“Something has made sense, well, infrastructure, that shouldn’t be hard to do. If it wasn’t hard to do, why did it take 30 years to get to this moment?” Warner said.

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Associated Press writer Marie Claire Jalonik contributed to this report.

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