Infrastructure on Track as Bipartisan US Senate Coalition Grows

After weeks of fits, starts and delays, the United States Senate is on track to give final approval to the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, with a growing coalition of Democrats and Republicans prepared to lift the first phase of President Joe Biden’s rebuilding agenda to passage.  Final Senate votes are expected Tuesday, and the bill would then go to the House. All told, some 70 senators appear poised to carry the bipartisan package to passage, a potentially robust tally of lawmakers eager to tap the billions in new spending for their states and show voters back home they can deliver.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it’s “the first time the Senate has come together around such a package in decades.” U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, carries his empty lunch box back into the Capitol as the Senate continues to work through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, in Washington, August 9, 2021.The often-elusive political center is holding steady, a rare partnership with Biden’s White House. On the left, the Democrats have withstood the complaints of liberals who say the proposal falls short of what’s needed to provide a down payment on one of the president’s top priorities. From the right, the Republicans are largely ignoring the criticism from their most conservative and far-flung voices, including a barrage of name-calling from former President Donald Trump as he tries to derail the package. Together, a sizable number of business, farm and labor groups back the package, which proposes nearly $550 billion in new spending on what are typically mainstays of federal spending: roads, bridges, broadband internet, water pipes, and other public works systems that cities and states often cannot afford on their own.  “This has been a different sort of process,” said Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator of the group of 10 senators who drafted the package. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the top Republican negotiator on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, works from his office on Capitol Hill, Aug. 9, 2021.Portman, a former White House budget director for George W. Bush, said the investments being made have been talked about for years, yet never seem to get done.  “We’ll be getting it right for the American people,” he said. The top Democratic negotiator, Senator Kyrsten Sinema, said she was trying to follow the example of fellow Arizonan John McCain to “reach bipartisan agreements that try to bring the country together.”  U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-AZ, arrives to deliver a floor speech as the U.S. Senate appears on track for passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, August 9, 2021.Still, not all senators are on board. Despite the momentum, action ground to a halt over the weekend when Senator Bill Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican allied with Trump, refused to speed up the process.  Other Republican senators objected to the size, scope and financing of the package, particularly concerned after the Congressional Budget Office said it would add $256 billion to deficits over the decade.  Two Republicans, Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana, had been part of initial negotiations shaping the package but ultimately announced they could not support it. Rather than pressure lawmakers, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has stayed behind the scenes for much of the bipartisan work. He has cast his own votes repeatedly to allow the bill to progress, calling the bill a compromise.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks off the Senate floor in Washington, Aug. 9, 2021.Trump called Hagerty, who had been his ambassador to Japan, on Sunday, and the senator argued for taking more time for debate and amendments, in part because he wants to slow the march toward Biden’s second phase, a $3.5 trillion bill that Republicans fully oppose.  The outline for the bigger $3.5 trillion package is on deck next in the Senate — a more liberal undertaking of child care, elder care and other programs that is much more partisan and expected to draw only Democratic support. That debate is expected to extend into the fall. Unlike Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is to be funded by repurposing other money and with other spending cuts and revenue streams. The bill’s backers argue that the budget office’s analysis was unable to take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth. Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments to the 2,700-page package, but so far none has substantially changed its framework. One remaining issue, over tax compliance for cryptocurrency brokers, appeared close to being resolved after senators announced they had worked with the Treasury Department to clarify the intent.  But an effort to quickly adopt the cryptocurrency compromise was derailed by senators who wanted their own amendments, including one to add $50 billion for shipbuilding and other defense infrastructure. It’s unclear whether any further amendments will be adopted. The House is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages when it returns from recess in September. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the two bills will be considered together, but on Monday a bipartisan group of centrist lawmakers urged her to bring their smaller plan forward quickly, raising concerns about the bigger bill, in a sign of the complicated politics ahead. “This once-in-a-century investment deserves its own consideration,” wrote Democratic Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Jared Golden as well as others in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. “We cannot afford unnecessary delays.” 
 



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