The legislation, which includes $550 billion in new funding for transportation, broadband and utilities, got through in a 69-30 vote, as 19 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats. The chamber in a 50-49 party-line vote then proceeded to a budget resolution that would allow Democrats to approve what they see as a complementary $3.5 trillion spending plan without Republican votes.
“Today, the Senate takes a decades overdue step to revitalize America’s infrastructure and give our workers, our businesses, our economy, the tools to succeed in the 21st century,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said Tuesday ahead of the votes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has stressed she will not take up the infrastructure bill or Democrats’ separate proposal to expand the social safety net until the Senate passes both of them. The House was set to stay on recess until Sept. 20, but Tuesday evening House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the chamber would return Aug. 23 to consider the budget resolution.
It could take months for Congress to pass both measures. Biden pushed for their approval Tuesday, framing the infrastructure bill as an investment that will “put people to work.”
“This bill is going to help make a historic recovery a long-term boom,” he said, while acknowledging Democrats’ “work is far from done.”
The bill’s approval caps a monthslong slog for the White House and both parties in Congress to forge a plan to refresh American roads, railways, public transit, water systems, power grids and broadband. Congress for years failed to agree on a comprehensive infrastructure plan, which supporters in both parties say will boost the economy and create jobs.
“The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will modernize and upgrade our roads, bridges, ports, and other key infrastructure assets,” the 10 senators who crafted the bill, led by Republican Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, said in a statement Tuesday.
“In doing so, this landmark piece of legislation will create jobs, increase productivity, and pave the way for decades of economic growth and prosperity – all without raising taxes on everyday Americans or increasing inflation,” they continued.
The GOP senators who supported the bill include those considered most likely to vote with Democrats — Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — and conservatives from red states such as Sens. Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven of North Dakota and Jim Risch of Idaho. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backed the legislation.
Democrats’ push to pass their economic agenda could still fall apart. The infrastructure bill on its own appears to have enough Democratic and Republican support to coast through the House.
But to win over both centrists wary of a $3.5 trillion bill and progressives who want additional spending on child care, paid leave and climate policy, Pelosi has said she will not pass one bill without the other. In order to approve their plan through budget reconciliation without Republicans, Democrats cannot lose a single member of their 50-person Senate caucus, or more than a handful of representatives.
The Senate will next vote on a budget resolution in the coming days to unlock the reconciliation process. The chamber began a so-called vote-a-rama — where the Senate considers an indefinite number of nonbinding amendments to the resolution — on Tuesday afternoon. The final vote on passage of the budget resolution will then take place.
The chamber plans to start its own recess once it passes the budget measure, and also is expected to return in mid-September.
Schumer has given committees a Sept. 15 target to finish writing their portions of the final legislation. The bill would then have to work its way through both chambers of Congress.
Centrists including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sinema have signaled they will vote for the budget resolution but try to trim the $3.5 trillion proposal. Republicans have started to hammer Democrats for the proposed spending and individual tax increases they hope to use to offset it.
McConnell on Tuesday called it a “reckless taxing and spending spree.”
Biden believes Congress can pass “a significant portion, if not all,” of the $3.5 trillion in spending called for in the budget resolution, he said Tuesday.
In addition to GOP opposition to the reconciliation plan, Democrats will also have to navigate concerns within their own party to pass both planks of their agenda. The co-chairs of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, called Tuesday for a stand-alone House vote on the infrastructure bill.
Biden and Democrats want a signature policy they can promote on the midterm campaign trail next year as they try to hold both chambers of Congress. Their plan is set to extend household tax credits and health-care subsidies passed during the coronavirus pandemic, lower the Medicare eligibility age and expand benefits and use tax credits, rebates and polluter fees to encourage the adoption of green energy.
The bipartisan bill is the first step. It puts $110 billion into roads, bridges and other major projects, $66 billion into passenger and freight rail, $65 billion into broadband, $55 billion into water systems and $39 billion into public transit, among other spending.
The Biden administration has pushed for its swift passage.
“My department is ready the moment this bill becomes law to start deploying these resources and getting them out to communities,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNBC’s “The News With Shepard Smith” on Monday.
Funding for the bipartisan bill will come from repurposed coronavirus relief money, unused federal unemployment insurance aid and spectrum auctions, among other sources. Republicans resisted Biden’s proposal to hike the corporate tax rate to offset costs.
While senators have said the bill will be paid for, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Thursday that it would increase budget deficits by $256 billion over a decade. The report did not include the potential revenue boost from economic growth.
Though Republicans including McConnell backed the infrastructure bill, the Senate minority leader has led his caucus in contending the reconciliation plan will increase inflation. National Economic Council Director Brian Deese disputed the argument during a CNBC interview Tuesday, saying spending in the Democratic bill would be offset.
“This is a prescription to grow the economy and actually reduce the price pressures over the long term,” he said.
The bipartisan infrastructure plan did not go far enough for many progressives to address climate change or boost households. A pocket of the party’s liberal wing in the House — where the bill will go next — has criticized the size of the bipartisan bill and called for a robust reconciliation package.
Ahead of the Senate vote, Schumer aimed to assure progressives in Congress that the second plan would meet their demands.
“To my colleagues who are concerned that this does not do enough on climate, for families and making corporations and the rich pay their fair share: we are moving on to a second track which will make generational transformation in these areas,” he said.