WASHINGTON — The Senate gave overwhelming bipartisan approval to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill Tuesday to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges and fund new climate resilience and broadband initiatives, delivering a key component of President Biden’s agenda.
The legislation would be the largest infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, touching nearly every facet of the US economy and fortifying the nation’s response to the warming of the planet.
It would provide historic levels of funding for the modernization of the nation’s power grid, as well as pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the repair and replacement of aging public works projects.
The vote, 69-30, was uncommonly bipartisan; the yes votes included Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and 18 other Republicans who shrugged off increasingly shrill efforts by former president Trump to derail it.
The measure now faces a potentially rocky and time-consuming path in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the nearly 100-member Progressive Caucus have said they will not vote on it unless and until the Senate passes a separate, even more ambitious $3.5 trillion social policy bill this fall.
The success of the infrastructure bill, painstakingly negotiated largely by a group of Republican and Democratic senators in consultation with White House officials, is a vindication of Biden’s belief that a bipartisan compromise was possible on a priority that has long been shared by both parties — even at a moment of deep political division. Yet Democrats will immediately take up the second social policy package, over Republican opposition, to fulfill the remainder of their spending priorities.
To win the compromise, Democrats and Biden — who had initially proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan — had to make major concessions. The package includes far less funding than they had wanted for lead pipe replacement, transit, and clean energy projects, among others. But the result was passage of a crucial component of the president’s far-reaching, $4 trillion economic agenda.
“This is what it looks like when elected leaders take a step toward healing our country’s divisions rather than feeding those very divisions,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat and key negotiator, said before the bill’s passage.
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, promised “it will be a lasting bipartisan achievement to help the people we represent — it’s going to improve the lives of all Americans.”
The bill would direct $550 billion in new federal spending toward infrastructure projects across the country, and renew and revamp existing programs set to expire at the end of September. It would provide $65 billion to expand high-speed Internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges, and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971.
To finance that spending, analysts said the government would most likely have to borrow heavily. On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would add $256 billion to the deficit over 10 years, contradicting the claims of its authors that their bill would be fully paid for.
That is nearly half of the new spending in the legislation, which includes a patchwork of measures purported to raise revenue to pay for it, including repurposing unspent pandemic relief funds, more tightly regulating cryptocurrency, and delaying implementation of a Trump-era rule that would change the way drug companies can offer discounts to health plans for Medicare patients.
Fiscal watchdogs had warned that senators were using budgetary gimmicks to obscure the true cost of their agreement, and the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate appeared to confirm that suspicion, prompting one Republican, Senator Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, to scuttle a bipartisan attempt to expedite its passage.
“There’s absolutely no reason for rushing this process and attempting to eliminate scrutiny of the bill, other than the Democrats’ completely artificial, self-imposed, and politically-driven timeline,” Hagerty declared in a speech Saturday.
But after days of voting on changes to the bill, which is more than 2,000 pages, senators in both parties shrugged at the deficit figures and came together to push through a package that Republicans and Democrats have long championed.
For Democrats, passage of the bill opened the way for consideration of their ambitious $3.5 trillion budget plan, which is expected to be packed with policies to address climate change, health, education, and paid leave. It will also include tax increases — and it is expected to generate unanimous Republican opposition.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has said he intends to move immediately to take up the budget blueprint, unveiled Monday, that would put Congress on track to pass that larger package unilaterally, using a process known as reconciliation that shields it from a filibuster.
The infrastructure legislation faces a tricky path in the House, where Pelosi has repeatedly said she will not take it up until the Senate clears the reconciliation bill.
The ultimatum has prompted mixed reactions in the House, as eight moderate Democrats, including Representatives Jared Golden of Maine and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, circulated a letter to Pelosi calling for a swift vote on the bipartisan deal.
But leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a letter to Pelosi, warned that a majority of its 96 members confirmed they would withhold their support for the legislation until the second, far more expansive package cleared the reconciliation process in the Senate.
“Whatever you can achieve in a bipartisan way — bravo, we salute it,” Pelosi said on Friday. “But at the same time, we’re not going forward with leaving people behind.”