A Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Moves Forward in the Senate

Congress is still hoping to begin an August Recess soon. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Last week, when a procedural vote on an unfinished infrastructure package failed in the Senate, negotiators claimed that they just needed a bit more time to work out the details – a familiar refrain when it comes to infrastructure. But on Wednesday, they made good on their promise: hours after multiple reports emerged of a deal on a bipartisan infrastructure package, the Senate voted 67 to 32 to advance the bill to a final vote as early as this week.

The motion to advance a bipartisan infrastructure bill has been in the works since an event in late June at the Rose Garden, where President Biden appeared with 10 senators from each party to endorse their plan. With the motion to advance on Wednesday, an additional seven Senate Republicans voted with the group of 10 from the Rose Garden and all 50 Democrats to pass a motion to proceed to a debate and final vote on the package.

The deal, which had nearly fallen apart at several points in the process, has apparently resolved disputes over the shares of transportation money going to public transit and highways; revenue offsets to make up for the IRS enforcement provisions Republican vetoed; and a variety of details left out of the earlier handshake agreement. One sticky subject, involving Republicans’ rejection of a requirement that “prevailing [i.e., union] wages” be paid on construction projects, led to the negotiators dropping a $29 billion infrastructure bank provision. So the new funding in the package will drop from the original $579 billion to $550 billion.

The agreement arrived just in time to push a second motion-to-proceed measure offered by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer past the threshold of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, paving the way for full Senate approval by week’s end, or so Politico reports:

As of Wednesday afternoon, nine Senate Republicans involved in the talks said they would move forward and two, Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), said they had not decided. When asked if the bipartisan framework will get the necessary 10 Senate Republican votes, Senate Minority Whip John Thune replied: “I think so.”

Once the count got past 60, other Republican senators climbed on board in order to share the credit for a rare bipartisan step forward, though some may back away when the actual bill comes to the floor.

Though there may be some grumbling among progressives about the compromises involved in the package and its relationship to the budget legislation up next in the Senate, Schumer is expected to deliver all 50 Democrats to get the infrastructure bill over the necessary procedural hurdles.

But one ominous note was struck by Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, the chief Democratic negotiator on the infrastructure package, in an interview with the Arizona Republic:

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema does not support Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget plan that aims to deliver major components of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda that Democrats hope to pass after moving a separate bipartisan infrastructure deal that Sinema negotiated.

Sinema, D-Ariz., told The Arizona Republic on Wednesday she had reviewed the Senate Budget Committee’s spending framework and has told Senate leadership and Biden that she supports many of its goals, including job growth and American competitiveness. 

“I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead,” Sinema said in a written statement.

This confirms earlier indications that she and her centrist sidekick Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia will insist on bringing the budget’s price tag down before allowing the reconciliation bill — which incorporates very large chunks of Joe Biden’s 2021 agenda — to pass. But Sinema’s proviso that “I will support beginning this process” and her reference to negotiations over “the coming months” suggests she will vote for the FY 2022 budget resolution that authorizes the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That is probably a condition precedent to House passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that is likely to become her signature achievement for years to come, and also a development that Congress will have to take care of before embarking on a planned August recess. So any penny-pinching by Sinema and Manchin will occur down the road, and anticipatory complaints by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others about centrist perfidy may just be warnings not to let the gamesmanship get out of control.

A Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Moves Forward in the Senate