The bipartisan infrastructure deal first announced in concept by Joe Biden and a group of senators in the Rose Garden on June 24 reached fruition on Thursday morning as the Senate approved the roughly $1.2 trillion package (just under half of which is new spending that was not already in the pipeline) benefiting roads, bridges, broadband, water, and energy needs. The bill passed by a vote of 69-30, with announced opponent of the bill Mike Rounds absent. It became clear that the package would be approved when a final cloture motion to cut off debate passed over the weekend, with even Mitch McConnell voting “aye.” The Senate Republican leader also voted for final passage of the bill, probably so that he can contrast this bipartisan measure with the highly partisan budget votes just ahead in Congress. All in all, 50 Democrats and 19 Republicans voted “aye” and 30 Republicans voted “no.”
Just prior to the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reinforced the “two-track strategy” Democrats are pursuing by reminding everyone that the minute the so-called BIF clears the chamber, he’ll bring up the FY 2022 Budget Resolution, authorizing up to $3.5 trillion in spending and revenues via a budget reconciliation bill that will come to the floor at some point in the autumn. It is expected to pass on a strict party-line basis, but not until after the arcane ritual of the “vote-a-rama,” a period of around-the-clock amendments that (mostly) Republicans will offer to score points with their activist base and set up embarrassing votes for vulnerable Democrats. Only then will the Senate be able to take its planned August recess, probably at some point this next weekend.
The infrastructure bill, meanwhile, will remain in limbo until the House takes it up. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly said she would refuse to do so until the Senate not only passes a budget resolution but also a reconciliation bill based on it. That won’t happen until some point in September at the very earliest, and more likely in October or even November. House progressives have been restive about the infrastructure bill, which they deem inadequate, even as Democratic centrists in the chamber are nervous about voting for the budget resolution and the reconciliation bill. So a long series of tense negotiations and difficult votes lies ahead, with such potentially toxic side issues as year-end appropriations and a much-needed debt limit increase (or suspension) also in play. But the key members of Congress remain infrastructure-deal architects Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema; the Democratic senators are expected to keep up their end of the bargain by voting for the budget resolution, while maintaining leverage over the final size and shape of the reconciliation bill.