UPDATE, 1 PM PT: President Joe Biden hailed the Senate passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, a key priority that he predicted would create a “historic recovery” and “long-term boom’ for the economy.
“After years and years of infrastructure week, we’re on the cusp of an infrastructure decade,” Biden said, a reference to his predecessor’s efforts to focus attention on the need to rebuild roads, bridges and other critical public works, only to be derailed by frequent off-message scandals and crises.
Donald Trump had urged Republicans to reject the bill, but a substantial number of them did not — 19. In the end, 69 senators voted for the bill, a rare moment of bipartisanship in an ever polarized environment.
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“We proved that we can still come together to do important things for the American people,” Biden said, thanking senators of both parties, including Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for their support.
That likely will be short lived, as the White House turns to the other part of its agenda, an estimated $3.5 trillion package to fund universal pre-K education, child tax credits, an expansion of Medicare, child care, and the first two years of community college, as well as a host of proposals to tackle climate change. Among other things, it would provide money to help homeowners upgrade their homes for energy efficiency, and boost agriculture and forest conservation.
Republicans are lining up to oppose that aspect of Biden’s agenda, but Democrats are pursuing a narrow path, called budget reconciliation, in which they will need a simple Senate majority, rather than the usual 60, to ultimately pass the massive bill. But it requires all of the Democratic caucus in the Senate to stick together. Democrats also have few votes to spare in the House.
Still, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking from the East Room, took a victory lap for getting this far. The president noted that the makeup of the vote for the legislation was more bipartisan than even the Senate approval of Dwight Eisenhower’s plan to build the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
Democrats, though, face a dicey process of garnering final approval in the House, as it will take unity among moderate and liberal wings of the party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she won’t move on the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the larger budget resolution package.
“We’ll get it done. I’ll get both,” Biden predicted.
PREVIOUSLY: The Senate passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Tuesday, in a rare moment of bipartisanship that also moves forward a key part of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
The bill passed 69-30. Nineteen Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, joined with Democrats and two independents in support.
The legislation provides tens of billions for revitalizing rail and public transportation, highways and freeways, water sources and, perhaps most important to the entertainment industry, now focused on a streaming future, is $65 billion to build out internet access throughout the country, whether in rural areas or via expanded subsidies for low-income users to afford service.
“When the Senate is run with an open hand — rather than a closed fist — senators can accomplish big things,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said from the floor just before the vote, as it was clear that it would pass.
While the legislation was hailed as a victory against the notion that the Senate was hopelessly polarizing, the goodwill likely will give way to a more partisan process.
That is because after the vote, Schumer quickly moved forward with another component of the Biden agenda, an estimated $3.5 trillion set of spending on childcare, universal pre-K, expanded Medicare benefits, clean energy and a host of other items. That package will be pursued via budget resolution, a process that requires a simple majority vote. That was evident by the presence in the chamber of Vice President Kamala Harris, who was needed in case of a tie. The Senate voted 50-49 to proceed with debate on the resolution.
“The two-track strategy is proceeding full steam ahead,” Schumer said.
The budget resolution also includes plans to offset the spending by increasing taxes on high income individuals and on corporations. The latter in particular is of interest to the business lobby, including the studios and media companies, which championed a decrease in the corporate rate, from 35% to 21%, in 2017. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), a key swing vote, has said that he would not back a rate increase to 28%, but would support a rate of 25%.
The time of a House vote is still uncertain. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that a vote on the infrastructure deal would come after the Senate approves the budget resolution — as a number of progressives have said they would only support the $1.2 trillion bill if it comes with the $3.5 trillion plan. Ultimate passage will mean threading the needle between the moderate and liberal wings of the party, with Democrats having just three votes to lose in the House.
Biden was expected to address the vote at the White House on Tuesday afternoon, but the moment of victory was obscured by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that he was resigning amid sexual harassment allegations, with his statement covered across cable news networks.
Among the groups advocating for the proposal were major cable and internet providers. Michael Powell, the president and CEO of NCTA — The Internet and Television Association, said in a statement that the infrastructure legislation “demonstrates that policymakers can find common ground on issues that are important for America’s future, including the need to get all Americans connected to robust and reliable broadband service.”
The broadband spending includes $42.5 billion for states to build out internet infrastructure in areas with no service or slow speeds. Companies that receive funding would be required to offer low cost plans to low income households. Another $14,2 billion will go to extending internet subsidies — generally $30 per subscriber — for eligible families to afford service.
Internet providers also will be required to provide consumers with uniform labels on their pricing and services, intended to make it easier for potential subscribers to decide which service to buy.
Public interest advocates have praised the bill, but still have significant concerns that it still will fall short in providing the money needed to fully build out high speed internet service in underserved areas. There also was some disappointment that the $30 subsidy is less than the $50 offered as part of coronavirus relief legislation.
The legislation also includes other spending aimed at addressing climate change, as well as funding for a network of electric vehicle charging stations and upgrading electrical grids. About $550 billion in the $1.2 trillion package is new spending, with the remainder already allocated in past legislation.
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