The Senate voted Wednesday to take up a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure deal as Republicans joined Democrats to pave the way for action on a crucial piece of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
The 67-32 vote, which included the support of 17 Republicans, came just hours after senators in both parties and the White House reached a long-sought compromise on the bill, which would provide about $550 billion in new federal money for roads, bridges, rail lines, transit projects, water systems and other physical infrastructure programs.
While a final Senate vote on the legislation is days away, the test vote Wednesday marked a major victory for Biden, who has pressed for the plan for months, and a validation of his faith that a bipartisan breakthrough was possible even in a polarized Washington.
It came just a week after Senate Republicans unanimously blocked consideration of the plan, raising doubts that the bipartisan group that had been toiling over the details could hold together in support of their deal. On Wednesday, even Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, voted to allow the plan to be considered.
“We look forward to moving ahead and having the opportunity to have a healthy debate here in the chamber regarding an incredibly important project for the American people,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and a lead negotiator for his party in the bipartisan talks.
The compromise bill, which was still being finalized Wednesday, was expected to include $110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $66 billion for passenger and freight rail; $39 billion for public transit; $65 billion for broadband; $17 billion for ports and waterways; and $46 billion to help states and cities prepare for droughts, wildfires, flooding and other consequences of climate change, according to White House officials who detailed it on condition of anonymity.
In a lengthy statement, Biden hailed it as “the most significant long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century.”
“Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal,” he said. “But that’s what it means to compromise and forge consensus — the heart of democracy. As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home. There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way.”
Many of the provisions were unchanged from an outline the group agreed upon last month. But it appeared to pare spending in a few areas, including reducing money for public transit to $39 billion from $49 billion and eliminating a $20 billion “infrastructure bank” meant to catalyze private investment in large projects.
Those concessions generated grumbling among progressives who were already angry at being excluded from the infrastructure talks, which included moderates in both parties, and concerned that it omitted key priorities. Several liberal Democrats warned that they might not support the measure in the closely divided House until a $3.5 trillion budget plan including investments in climate change, health care, education and child care programs had been approved and funded.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., took to Twitter to chastise Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a leading negotiator of the bipartisan plan, for comments suggesting she might not vote for that more ambitious package, which party leaders plan to push through both chambers unilaterally, over the opposition of Republicans.
“Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin — especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a ‘bipartisan accomplishment,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Still, the agreement drew more than enough support to clear its first major hurdle.
The loss of the infrastructure bank appeared to cut in half the funding for electric vehicle charging stations that administration officials had said was included in the original agreement, jeopardizing Biden’s promise to create a network of 500,000 charging stations nationwide.
The new agreement significantly changes how the infrastructure spending will be paid for, after Republicans balked at a pillar of the original framework: increased revenue from an IRS crackdown on tax cheats, which was set to supply nearly one-fifth of the funding for the plan.
Instead, negotiators agreed to repurpose more than $250 billion from previous COVID-19 relief legislation, including $50 billion from expanded unemployment benefits that have been canceled prematurely this summer by two dozen Republican governors, according to a fact sheet reviewed by The New York Times. That is more than double the repurposed money in the original deal.
The new agreement would save $50 billion by delaying a Medicare rebate rule passed under President Donald Trump and raise nearly $30 billion by applying tax information reporting requirements to cryptocurrency. It also proposes to recoup $50 billion in fraudulently paid unemployment benefits during the pandemic.