- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 1, 2021

A $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is on track for Senate passage this week, key lawmakers said Sunday, setting the stage for floor action and hand-wringing over Democrats’ demands for a follow-up bill that would spend trillions more on child care, education and social welfare.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, said she expected the roads-and-bridges bill to win over enough Republicans to overcome filibuster fears in the evenly divided chamber.

“I believe that it will. This bill is good for America,” Ms. Collins told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Every senator can look at bridges and roads and need for more broadband, waterways in their states, seaports airports, and see the benefits, the very concrete benefits — no pun intended — of this legislation.”

Sen. Joe Manchin III, a centrist Democrat from West Virginia, said the bill text was almost done so he expected the Senate to start on amendments Monday and reach passage on Thursday.

“When you see [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer and you see [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell both voting for the same thing, it’s unbelievable,” Mr. Manchin told CNN. “When you talk about roads and bridges and rails and train and everything that goes with it, and internet services, it’s something that every state, every area of every state needs.”

The deal is a critical part of President Biden’s agenda and his campaign vow to notch bipartisan victories. 

It includes $66 billion for Amtrak, $73 billion to “decarbonize” the electrical grid, $65 billion for broadband access and tens of billions more for public transit, airports, highways and clean-water systems.

For years, members of both parties have clamored for upgrades but fumbled attempts at a deal, making “infrastructure week” a running joke in Washington.

This year’s effort is complicated by Democrats’ pursuit of a two-track package that includes roughly $3.5 trillion in social welfare spending in a second bill.

Republicans object to that bill, so Democratic leaders are moving to pass it under the “budget reconciliation” process that can avoid a Senate filibuster as long as they lock in support from all 50 Senate Democrats or find enough Republicans to replace dissenters.

Mr. Schumer said he will shift to budget resolution following the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“We remain firmly on track to achieve our two-track goal,” Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, said after the Senate gaveled in Sunday. “Both tracks are very much needed by the American people and we must accomplish both.

Former President Donald Trump, who many still view as the leader of the Republican Party, urged lawmakers to oppose the bipartisan deal because Democratic leaders will celebrate the win for Mr. Biden and then forge ahead with their big-spending plans.

“The RINOs in the Senate are delivering a big win by caving to the radical Democrats on infrastructure,” Mr. Trump said Friday. “Once they pass this bill out of the Senate, it will sit in the House until they get steamrolled by the biggest government expansion in a generation.”  

Ms. Collins said each senator will have to decide whether Mr. Trump’s opposition matters. She said the bill includes clear benefits for their states and that Mr. Trump once proposed similar investments.

The march toward passage comes after multiple bumps in the road for negotiators. Senate Democrats said Friday they were worried the bill did not have enough support for broadband speed in urban areas, while Republicans warned them not to steer funding away from rural areas with no access whatsoever. 

Lawmakers said inaccurate drafts of the bill were circulating around town, stirring up lobbyists and causing confusion.

Given senators’ optimism Sunday, the biggest fight may occur when the bill moves to the House and collides with the Democratic majority’s demands for the social-spending package.

The Congressional Problems Solvers Caucus, made up of 60 bipartisan lawmakers from the House and the Senate, pressed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a “stand-alone” vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, has pledged to block the infrastructure deal until the Senate passes, along party lines if necessary, the $3.5 trillion follow-up bill under reconciliation.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, New Jersey Democrat and a co-chairman of the problem solvers caucus, said that positioning only exacerbates the “uncivil war that pits red against blue.”

“I’m confident when this bill gets sent to the House from the Senate, with President [Biden] and the White House fully behind it, we will take it up quickly for a strong, standalone, bipartisan vote because that’s what this country wants,” Mr. Gottheimer said, adding that his caucus would not let “anything get in the way” of such a vote.

Likewise, Mr. Manchin said the House side should judge the infrastructure bill on its own merits.

But Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat, said federal investments can’t hinge on the whims of 10 Republican lawmakers in the divided Senate while Democrats hold a House majority.

“We can’t just have one body driving the legislative agenda for the country,” she told CNN on Sunday. “If there is not a reconciliation bill in the House and if the Senate does not pass a reconciliation bill, we will uphold our end of the bargain and not pass the bipartisan bill until we get all of these investments in.”

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday side-stepped questions about whether the House should simply pass the bipartisan infrastructure instead of holding out for both measures.

“We believe in both of these packages and we believe in each of these packages,” he told ABC. “And the president has made clear that he supports them both and looks forward to signing them both.”

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