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Senate's $550 billion infrastructure deal clears key hurdle

Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate cleared a second procedural hurdle Friday on the $550 billion infrastructure bill, making passage of a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda likely in the coming days.

The 66-28 vote reflects broad bipartisan support in the evenly divided chamber for the plan, a milestone after weeks of stop-and-go negotiations. Still, debate on the bill is likely to stretch into next week.

Passage of the bill would set the stage for later consideration of Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic package, a partisan drive to overhaul policies on climate change, taxes, health care, immigration and others.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the package “a massive down payment towards rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” and said the Senate could be in session this weekend to speed things along.

“With the cooperation of our Republican colleagues, I believe we can finish the bipartisan infrastructure bill in a matter of days,” Schumer said.

The legislation, which would mark the biggest investment in infrastructure in decades, was negotiated by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators led by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio.

The Senate voted, 67-32, on Wednesday to advance debate on the bill.

 

The legislation includes $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, $73 billion of electric grid upgrades, $66 billion for rail and Amtrak, and $65 billion for broadband expansion. It also provides $55 billion for clean drinking water and $39 billion for transit, among other areas.

The legislation’s supporters say its costs would be fully offset, in part by repurposing $200 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds, sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, higher customs user fees and more reporting requirements on cryptocurrency transactions. It also taps a few budget gimmicks, like counting revenue from future economic growth.

Several Republican senators, including Rick Scott of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, have blasted the overall price tag and said they would oppose the bill. But Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the Republican negotiators, criticized the “inconsistency” of his colleagues who were all-in for former President Donald Trump’s idea for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan but aren’t supporting this package.

“If Republicans were on board for former President Trump, we are one-third the cost and have it paid for, it seems like something that should be acceptable,” Cassidy said on Bloomberg TV.

Friday’s vote was briefly delayed as Republicans and Democrats haggled over some details of the language in the bill. But they agreed to go forward with assurances that the senators involved in drafting the compromise will have final say.

“There are different versions of the language that apparently are floating out there, none of them are accurate,” Portman said before the vote. He said he’s gotten “personal assurances” that the bipartisan group will be in control of the legislative text that is eventually released.

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