U.S. Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (D-NY) looks up after reading a statement calling for the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, August 3, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
Senators will resume a weekend session toward passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package after running into opposition from a few Republicans who want to drag out final votes on one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities.
The measure would provide what Biden has called a “historic investment” in public works programs, from roads and bridges to broadband internet access, drinking water and more. In a rare stroke of bipartisanship, Republicans joined Democrats to advance the measure and more votes are expected Sunday. If approved, the bill would go to the House.
Despite the overwhelming support, momentum has dragged as a few Republican senators refused to yield 30 hours of required debate before the next set of procedural votes, which could delay swift passage of the package and result in a dayslong slog.
“We can get this done the easy way or the hard way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Saturday. But as the hours ticked away with no deal struck to quicken the process for considering amendments and final votes, Schumer said senators would resume at noon Sunday.
Senators were meeting for the second consecutive weekend to work on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is the first of Biden’s two infrastructure packages. Once voting wraps up, senators immediately will turn to the next item on Biden’s agenda, the budget outline for a $3.5 trillion package of child care, elder care and other programs that is a much more partisan undertaking and expected to draw only Democratic support.
Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, center, speaks during a news conference with the House Problem Solvers Caucus outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, July 30, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Schumer has vowed to keep senators in session until they finish up the bipartisan bill and start the initial votes on the next big package.
For some Republican senators, the back-to-back voting on Biden’s big priorities is what they are trying to delay, hoping to slow or halt what appears to be a steady march to achieve the president’s infrastructure goals.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., an ally of Donald Trump and the former president’s ambassador to Japan, was among those leading the effort for the Senate to take as much time as needed to debate and amend the bill.
“There’s absolutely no reason to rush,” Hagerty said during a floor speech Saturday.
Trump himself has weighed in including a statement Saturday criticizing Biden, senators of both parties and the bill itself, though it’s not clear whether the former president’s views hold sway over the lawmakers.
Biden has encouraged senators on, saying the bipartisan package offered an investment on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system. Vice President Kamala Harris arrived on Capitol Hill for meetings on the bipartisan legislation.
Overcoming the 60-vote hurdle was a sign that the tenuous alliance between Republicans and Democrats could hold on the public works package. In all, 18 Republicans joined Democrats on the 67-27 vote to push the measure past a filibuster, a robust tally.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has so far allowed the bill to progress, despite the broadsides and name-calling coming from the former president. His vote Saturday — another “yes” — was closely watched. “This is a compromise,” McConnell said.
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.
More amendments could be debated Sunday with senators considering revisions to a section on cryptocurrency, a long-shot effort by defense hawks to add $50 billion for defense-related infrastructure and a bipartisan amendment to repurpose a portion of the untapped COVID-19 relief aid that had been sent to the states.
For senators who have been slogging through debate — and months of give-and-take negotiations — the bipartisan bill is a chance not only to send federal dollars to their states, but also to show the country that members of Congress can work together in a bipartisan way to solve problems.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the needs in her state were obvious — including money for water systems in remote villages without running taps for handwashing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as one of the negotiators, she also wants to demonstrate that lawmakers can unite.
“I’m really worried that everybody believes that we’re as dysfunctional as we appear to be, and so to prove otherwise, it’s kind of important,” she said. “The Senate needs some demonstrated acts of bipartisanship.”
Senators have found much to like in the bill, even though it does not fully satisfy liberals, who view it as too small, or conservatives, who find it too large. It would provide federal money for projects many states and cities could not afford on their own.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said, “America has not seen this type of infrastructure investment in 30 years.”
An analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office drew concerns, particularly from Republicans. It concluded that the legislation would increase deficits by about $256 billion over the next decade.
But the bill’s backers argued that the budget office was unable to take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth. Additional analysis released Saturday by the budget office suggested infrastructure spending overall could boost productivity and lower the ultimate costs.
Paying for the package has been a pressure point throughout the months of negotiations after Democrats objected to an increase in the gas tax paid at the pump and Republicans resisted a plan to bolster the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.
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 funded by repurposing other money, including untapped COVID-19 aid, and other spending cuts and revenue streams.
The House is in recess and is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages when it returns in September.