U.S. Senate OKs $1.2T bipartisan infrastructure bill

By: - August 10, 2021 11:22 am

“It’s been a long and winding road,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor Tuesday.(Photo: Ronda Churchill)

The U.S. Senate passed 69-30 on Tuesday a sweeping bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, a milestone for one of President Joe Biden’s priorities after months of negotiation.

Biden proposed an infrastructure plan in March that would have topped $2 trillion. A bipartisan group of senators led by Rob Portman, (R-Ohio), and Kyrsten Sinema, (D-Ariz.), worked out details of the bill that eventually topped 2,700 pages and included $550 billion in new spending.

“It’s been a long and winding road,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Every Senate Democrat and 19 Republicans voted in favor of final passage. 

The bill includes:

  • $351 billion for highways and bridges
  • $107 billion for transit
  • $73 billion for electric grid infrastructure
  • $66 billion for passenger rail
  • $55 billion for drinking water infrastructure 
  • $42 billion for broadband deployment
  • $25 billion for airports
  • $17 billion for ports
  • $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations
  • $7.5 billion for electric buses and ferries 

The White House has said the bill would be paid for with $263 billion in unused money from COVID-19 relief funds and enhanced unemployment benefits, $51 billion from delaying a rule on Medicare Part D, $20 billion from future auctions of spectrum used for telecommunications, increased economic activity and other sources.

GOP objections

Some Republicans said the overall spending was too high, objecting to the bill’s wide scope that went beyond traditional transportation infrastructure like roads and bridges.

They are also unhappy with the majority’s plan to follow the infrastructure bill with a $3.5 trillion budget resolution and plan for expansive spending on education, climate, health and human services. 

Unlike the infrastructure bill and most Senate legislation, that larger spending plan will require only a simple majority because it will be considered under a process known as reconciliation, and Democrats plan to pursue its approval without any Republican support. 

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran voted against final passage of the infrastructure measure Tuesday after being part of the original bipartisan working group that produced a framework for the bill. 

He said in a Monday floor speech the bill included several of his priorities, including broadband investment, but that it was too expensive and was not offset with more revenue or cuts to other spending.

He also objected to the measure’s link with the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint and reconciliation bill that will encompass health care, education, environmental programs and more. That undercut the bipartisan nature of the first bill, Moran said. 

The Senate voted immediately after the infrastructure vote to proceed to debate on the budget resolution. That motion passed along party lines, 50-49, with Sen. Mike Rounds, (R-S.D.), missing both votes.

“This bill does fall short of addressing some of the most pressing issues facing us at this moment,” said Nevada Democratic Rep. Dina Titus after the Senate passage Tuesday, “which is why I’m encouraged to see the Senate immediately begin work on the budget resolution.”

What’s next

The infrastructure measure’s fate in the Democrat-led House, which passed its own surface transportation authorization last month that included billions of dollars earmarked for specific projects requested by lawmakers, is uncertain.

The Senate’s 60-vote requirement, and the Senate bill’s backing from the White House and a substantial group of Republicans, likely mean that chamber’s version will be closer to what arrives on Biden’s desk. 

Biden is scheduled to meet with governors and mayors Wednesday to discuss the bill’s benefits for state and local roads, transit, water infrastructure and broadband.

The federal money will allow state departments of transportation to start on the long wish lists of projects they’ve been waiting to undertake, said Susan Howard, the program director for transportation finance at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, a group that advocates for state departments of transportation. 

“We have a clear backlog of unmet needs—projects that have been on the books with state DOTs for years,” Howard said last week. 

Critics, however, have said the bill will worsen the transportation sector’s already-problematic level of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Although the bill includes some money for items meant to mitigate climate change and reduce emissions, those programs are dwarfed by the massive spending on new highways that encourages even more driving, and thus emissions from cars and trucks.

Families, jobs, taxes

In his floor speech ahead of the vote, Schumer acknowledged the bill’s shortcomings and pledged the next major piece of legislation in the Senate would offer more help to working families and small businesses, add more jobs focused on addressing climate change and adjust the tax code. 

“We Democrats believe we must do much more,” Schumer said. The budget resolution “will make generational transformations in these areas.”

House progressives warned Tuesday that they won’t back the infrastructure bill until the Senate acts on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, the New York Times reported. House Democrats hold a slim majority and can’t afford to lose many members on a vote.

In her statement, Titus said the nation needs a reconciliation bill “that addresses climate change, expands Medicare coverage, invests in child care, universal pre-K, and affordable housing, and provides a pathway to citizenship. This bill must make progress in those areas in order to meet the challenges facing Southern Nevadans and the nation.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.