- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Senate passed the White House’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package on Tuesday, clearing a large hurdle for one of President Biden’s key domestic priorities.

In a 69-30 vote, the Senate approved the 2,702-page bill after a series of delays. The package’s consistent bipartisan support was evidenced by the fact that 19 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold.

“The Senate‘s about to make history. We’ve heard over the years, in fact, over decades, about the need for us to fix our infrastructure,” said Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who helped craft the deal. “Well, today is infrastructure day.”

Approval of the bill came despite significant flaws being evident. Most notably, the Congressional Budget Office has found that more than half of the package’s $550 billion in new spending is unfunded.

Overall, the nonpartisan agency estimates the legislation will add $256 billion to the federal deficit.

“I agree that working to shore up our hard infrastructure is a worthy cause. Investing in infrastructure — the right way — is a wise investment in America’s future and long-term competitiveness,” said Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican who spearheaded opposition to the bill. “But that’s not what we are being asked to vote on here.”

Mr. Hagerty, who served as ambassador to Japan under former President Trump, succeeded in delaying efforts by Democrats to expedite consideration of the package.

Despite extra time to review, the deal remained popular among significant numbers of Democrats and Republicans. 

GOP lawmakers, for instance, secured $65 billion to expand broadband access in rural areas. Democrats, meanwhile, got $39 billion for public transit on top of a further $66 billion for Amtrak. 

The package also includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $42 billion for airports and ports, $50 billion for clean water, and $73 billion to decarbonize the electric grid.

“Everyone involved in this effort can be proud of what this body is achieving today. The Senate is doing its job,” Mr. Portman said. “It’s doing its job by helping the American people we represent through a historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure that will serve the American people for decades to come.”

In the lead-up to the vote, both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump were vocal about the package.

Mr. Biden, in particular, made a last-minute push in favor of the deal, even delaying his long-planned vacation to return to Washington to be on hand for the vote. 

“This is a moment that is beyond the headlines, beyond partisan soundbites, beyond the culture of instant outrage, disinformation, and conflict as entertainment,” Mr. Biden said from the White House. “This is about us doing the real hard work of governing. It is about democracy delivering for the people.”

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, has castigated the bill at every turn. The former president, who many still view as the leader of the GOP, even threatened to withhold future support from any Republican who voted for passage. 

“It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Whether it’s the House or the Senate, think twice before you approve this terrible deal.” 

The former president also argued that it was improper to back the infrastructure deal since Democratic leaders were holding it hostage in exchange for a $3.5 trillion social welfare bill. 

Most notably, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, has pledged not to move the infrastructure package until the Senate passes the larger bill. 

Dubbed as “human infrastructure,” the $3.5 trillion legislation contains a slew of liberal priorities, including new climate-change regulations and amnesty for illegal immigrants. 

Because those provisions are unlikely to garner GOP support, Democrats plan to pass it along party lines via budget reconciliation. The process allows spending measures to avoid the Senate’s 60-vote hurdle and pass with a simple majority of 51 votes. 

“Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats understand that this is the way to get the horrendous $3.5 trillion, actually $5 trillion, Green New Deal bill done in the House,” Mr. Trump said. 

Mr. Trump’s pressure convinced at least two GOP lawmakers, Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana, to oppose the deal, despite having been privy to early negotiations on the topic. 

“Too much spending, too much debt and too much inflation,” Mr. Moran said. “My efforts to reach a compromise were honest and sincere, and, unfortunately, we were unable to arrive at a bill I could support.”

Passing the Senate, though, may have been the easy part. Heading into the House, the infrastructure bill must secure the support of Mrs. Pelosi’s entire majority. 

The feat is made all the more difficult by the intensifying intra-party divisions among Democrats. 

Moderate Democrats, like those in the 19-member Blue Dog Coalition, are pressuring Mrs. Pelosi to hold a “standalone” vote on the infrastructure, rather than demanding it follows the reconciliation bill. 

“Now that the Senate has done its job, we reiterate our call for House leadership to follow suit and bring the bipartisan infrastructure legislation to the House floor for a vote as a standalone bill as quickly as possible,” wrote the group’s co-chairs. 

In opposition to the idea and backing Mrs. Pelosi, though, is the 95-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. 

“The Senate just took a necessary step forward. Now, onto the jobs and families package with funding for housing, climate action, Medicare expansion and more for working people across the country,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat who chairs the caucus. “We’re not passing the bipartisan bill in the House without it.” 

While most believe that Mrs. Pelosi will be able to unite House Democrats in the end, there is no doubt that the speaker’s path forward is increasingly narrow. At the moment, Democrats only have a three-seat majority within the House. 

Kery Murakami and Jeff Mordock contributed to this story.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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