WASHINGTON – The Senate approved a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill Tuesday, clearing a major roadblock for a core Biden administration priority – but the legislation must overcome more obstacles before it becomes law.
Senators voted 69-30 to approve the package, which would direct billions to modernize roads, bridges and transit systems while expanding high-speed internet systems and the nation’s network of electric vehicle charging stations. The bill goes to the House of Representatives.
The legislation calls for $550 billion in spending. Among the major investments in the bipartisan package are $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for railways. It contains $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as billions for airports, seaports, broadband internet and electric vehicle charging stations.
Roads, broadband and bridges: Here’s what’s in the infrastructure agreement
The vote followed weeks of tense negotiations between the White House and a bipartisan group of about 20 senators trying to craft a centrist package that would entice enough Republicans to join every Democrat in overcoming a filibuster to pass a bill.
“When the Senate is run with an open hand rather than a closed fist, senators can accomplish big things,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who called the effort “decades overdue” to revitalize the country’s infrastructure. “Despite this long road we have taken, we have finally, finally reached the finish line.”
In a sign of its importance to the Biden administration, Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the vote in her role as Senate president.
President Joe Biden said the country is on the cusp of a transformational improvement in infrastructure, but more work must be done in the House. He said the legislation could build the economy from the bottom up and from the middle out.
“There are no Republican bridges or Democratic roads,” Biden said. “This is a moment that lives beyond the headlines, beyond partisan soundbites, beyond the culture of instant outrage, disinformation and conflict as entertainment. This is about us doing the real hard work of governing. This is about democracy delivering for the people. This is about winning the future.”
Senate Democrats will proceed on the second track of their infrastructure agenda: an ambitious $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” plan that seeks to improve housing, education and health care as well as take dramatic steps to address the growing threat of climate change.
Not a single Republican is expected to support it, a hurdle Democratic leaders hope to vault by bringing up the bill through a legislative maneuver known as budget reconciliation that would pass if all 50 Democratic senators support it along with Harris’ tiebreaking vote. Two Senate Democrats – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona – have expressed reservations about the measure.
The problem for supporters of the bipartisan infrastructure bill approved Tuesday is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., won’t bring that bill to the floor for a vote unless the Senate has passed the larger bill. Even if she wanted to hold a vote on the bipartisan package, Democratic liberals in the House who are crucial to the bill’s passage have made it clear they will oppose it if they don’t see the Senate pass the “human infrastructure” measure.
“We are not voting for the bipartisan bill without the reconciliation bill,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, told USA TODAY on Thursday.
Movement on the larger bill could happen quickly. Schumer immediately moved to a vote on a resolution laying out the framework of the reconciliation bill. Once that passes, deliberations on the actual elements and language of the measure would begin, and the Senate would hold a final vote this fall.
The Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday that the $1.2 trillion bill would add $256 billion to projected deficits from 2021 to 2031, which drew criticism from some Republicans.
The bill received 19 Republican votes, including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Republicans voted for the bill:McConnell among 19 Republicans to vote for infrastructure bill. Here are the Republicans who helped it over the finish line
Biden said after the vote Tuesday that he called most of the 19 Republicans to praise them.
“You have, and no doubt you will, disagree with me on many issues. But where we can agree, we should,” he said. “And here on this bill, we proved that we can still come together to do big things, important things, for the American people.”
Contributing: The Associated Press; Rick Rouan, USA TODAY