The Senate on Tuesday passed a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, a significant win for President Biden and the first step on his top legislative priority.
Senators voted 69-30 on the bill, which was spearheaded by a bipartisan group of senators led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). Nineteen GOP senators voted with all Democrats to pass the legislation.
The bill is now heading to the House, where it faces an uncertain future and skepticism from progressives. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed she won’t take it up until the Senate passes the second part of its infrastructure two step, a sweeping $3.5 trillion spending package that includes Democrats’ top priorities.
But the Senate’s passage of the bipartisan measure on Tuesday gives a victory for Biden and the centrist-minded group that led the legislation, and placed big bets and months of time on the ability to get a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, one of Washington’s long-running legislative white whales.
“Congress has talked about truly modernizing our nation’s infrastructure for as long as we can remember. The United States Senate delivered so that we can finally give the American people the safe, reliable, and modern infrastructure they deserve,” Portman, Sinema and the eight other senators who were the core negotiators said in a joint statement after the vote.
And underscoring the bill’s importance to the administration, Vice President Harris presided over the vote even though she wasn’t needed to break a tie.
The bipartisan deal includes roughly $550 billion in new funding, making it substantially smaller than the $2.6 trillion proposed by Biden earlier this year.
It includes money for new investments for infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, broadband, water and rail. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, the bill would add $256 billion to the deficit, though negotiators argue that “hard” infrastructure projects pay for themselves over time and that CBO didn’t give them full credit for their work.
“The new spending under the bill is offset through a combination of new revenue and savings, some of which is reflected in the formal CBO score and some of which is reflected in other savings and additional revenue identified in estimates, as CBO is limited in what it can include in its formal score,” Sinema and Portman said in a joint statement on the analysis.
Even though the bipartisan bill appeared in recent days to be on a glide path to passage, it was full of stops and starts.
Biden initially tried to negotiate a deal with Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), but those talks unraveled. Biden, instead, blessed the negotiations between Portman and Sinema, who had been quietly talking for weeks, and he joined a group of the 10 core negotiators at the White House in late June to announce they had reached a deal on a framework.
The group and the White House then spent more than the next month trying to iron out their details, including the perennial sticking point of how to pay for the agreement after Republicans took ramped-up IRS enforcement off the table. That included hours of Capitol meetings filled with pizza and several bottles of wine.
Even after the group and the White House announced late last month that they had a deal on the “major issues” and the Senate formally moved to take up the bill, they still spent days finalizing key provisions including broadband and transit.
And the Senate’s final debate on the bill over the weekend was dragged out after Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) rejected lobbying by his colleagues to sign off on an agreement that would trade votes on anywhere from 16 to 25 amendments in exchange for speeding up the final vote. Senators also made eleventh-hour attempts to add a deal to change the bill’s cryptocurrency language, which has sparked bipartisan alarm, but those were blocked.
The bill passed in the Senate on Tuesday put Republican splits on full display with former President Trump repeatedly lashing out at Republicans, including GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for helping advance the bipartisan deal.
“Nobody will ever understand why Mitch McConnell allowed this non-infrastructure bill to be passed. He has given up all of his leverage for the big whopper of a bill that will follow. … He is working so hard to give Biden a victory, now they’ll go for the big one, including the biggest tax increases in the history of our Country,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.
McConnell, in a statement after the vote, touted the money that would go toward Kentucky projects under the bill.
“I was proud to support today’s historic bipartisan infrastructure deal and prove that both sides of the political aisle can still come together around commonsense solutions. By promoting sensible, collaborative legislation, we have shown that the Senate still works as an institution,” he said.
To pass the bill through the Senate, Democrats needed at least 10 GOP votes. Though they got several more than that, they also lost GOP senators who had helped advance the bill over earlier procedural hurdles.
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who is up for reelection next year, announced over the weekend that he could not support the deal.
“Having reviewed the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimated fiscal impact of this legislation as currently constructed, and frankly still not being comfortable with a number of the Democratic priorities contained in this version, I will vote ‘no,’ ” Young said in a statement.
And Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who missed the vote because his wife is undergoing treatment for cancer, announced hours before Tuesday’s vote that he could not support the deal. He voted to advance it on Saturday.
“As we combed through the legislative text of this 2,702 page bill and the subsequent amendments, there were many sections that I believe contradict the values of the people of South Dakota who sent me to Washington. With that in mind, I could not in good conscience support this legislation in its final form,” Rounds said.
The Senate’s passage of the bill tees up Senate Democrats to turn to their $3.5 trillion plan, which they will try to pass through the Senate without GOP support.
Passing the plan requires two steps: First, they need to clear a budget resolution that includes broad instructions and top-line figures on the subsequent bill.
The Senate is poised to vote on Tuesday to take up the budget resolution, which Democrats will be able to do on their own as long as all 50 of their members stay unified. Before they can approve the budget, they’ll need to endure a marathon session known as vote-a-rama, where any senator can force a vote on anything they want.
After they clear the budget resolution, they will then spend at least a month drafting the spending package itself, which will include top priorities including expanding Medicare, immigration reform, combating climate change and universal pre-K.
The House is expected to wait until after the Senate passes the spending package this fall to take up the bipartisan bill, though moderates are ramping up efforts to pressure Pelosi into moving faster.
“So whatever you can achieve in a bipartisan way, bravo. We salute it. We applaud it. We hope that it will pass soon. But, at the same time, we’re not going forward with leaving people behind,” Pelosi told reporters last week. “All of these things are urgent, and we’re going to get them done together.”