Still waiting, Senate grinds away on US$1 trillion infrastructure Bill
WASHINGTON - The vote on a US$1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package could be held “in a matter of days,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday (Aug 1). But first, senators still need to finish writing the vast legislation.
Schumer opened the rare Sunday session by saying that the text of the Bill would be released “imminently". To be called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it is swelling to 2,700 pages. But as glitches were caught and changes made, the start-and-stop day was turning into an evening Senate session.
Two of the negotiators said Sunday morning that action could come soon. Senator Susan Collins said on CNN, “We really are just about finished.” Senator Joe Manchin said on CNN that there will likely be “text today and by this evening, hopefully we can start the process.” Like Schumer, both said the Bill could be finished this week.
Senators and staff have been labouring behind the scenes for days to write what is certain to be a massive piece of legislation and a key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda. It calls for US$550 billion in new spending over five years above projected federal levels, what could be one the more substantial expenditures on the nation’s roads, bridges, waterworks, broadband and the electric grid in years.
To prod the work along, Schumer is keeping senators in over the weekend to finish drafting the Bill so that senators can begin offering amendments. But it has been a weekend of fits and starts as senators. “They need a little more time,” Schumer said late Saturday “I’m prepared to give it
Schumer warned Saturday that he was prepared to keep lawmakers in Washington for as long as it took to complete votes on both the bipartisan infrastructure plan as well as a budget blueprint that would allow the Senate to begin work later this year on a massive, US$3.5 trillion social, health and environmental Bill.
”The longer it takes to finish, the longer we will be here, but we’re going to get the job done,” he said. Senator John Cornyn, predicted: “It’s going to be a grind.” Among the major investments in the bipartisan package are US$110 billion for roads and bridges, US$39 billion for public transit and US$66 billion for rail. There’s also US$55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure as well as billions for airports, ports, broadband internet and electric vehicle charging stations.
After negotiators rejected ideas to raise revenue from a new gas tax or other streams, the package is being financed from funding sources that might not pass muster with deficit hawks, including repurposing untapped COVID-19 relief aid and relying on projected future economic growth. But so far there bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic senators have pushed the process along.
Schumer wants the voting to be wrapped up on both the bipartisan package and the US$3.5 trillion blueprint to start on the bigger package before senators leave for the August recess. The outcome with the bipartisan effort will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s much more ambitious US$3.5 trillion package, a strictly partisan pursuit of far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans strongly oppose that Bill, which would require a simple majority, and may try to stop both. Final votes on that are not expected until fall.
Last week week, 17 GOP senators joined all Democrats in voting to start work on the Bill. That support has largely held, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voting yes in another procedural vote to nudge the process along. Whether the number of Republican senators willing to pass the Bill grows or shrinks in the days ahead will determine if the president’s signature issue can make it across the finish line.
Cornyn said he expects Schumer to allow all senators to have a chance to shape the Bill and allow for amendments from members of both parties. “I hope we can now pump the brakes a little bit and take the time and care to evaluate the benefits and the cost of this legislation," Cornyn said. As time dragged awaiting the Bill, Senator Mark Warner, said on Saturday that negotiators were finalising the last few pieces. “There's been some of the sense of, well, infrastructure, that shouldn't be hard to do. If it wasn't hard to do, why has it taken 30 years to get to this moment?" Warner said.