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Senate Advances Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

The lead GOP negotiators on the bipartisan infrastructure legislation — Sens. Lisa Murkowski (from left), Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney — speak to reporters Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.
The lead GOP negotiators on the bipartisan infrastructure legislation — Sens. Lisa Murkowski (from left), Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Susan Collins and Mitt Romney — speak to reporters Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol.

Updated July 28, 2021 at 7:24 PM ET

Hours after bipartisan Senate negotiators reached a deal on an infrastructure package, the chamber voted to advance it, setting in motion a final vote on the bill in the coming days.

The procedural motion was approved 67-32, with 17 Republicans joining all Democrats to begin legislative action. The top Senate GOP leader, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, was among those voting to move ahead with the proposal.

Earlier on Wednesday GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told reporters the group reached agreement on the major issues and was still working on legislative text. "We are prepared to move forward," Portman said after the Republicans working on the deal met with McConnell.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who was leading talks for the 10 Democrats at the negotiating table, told reporters on Capitol Hill that "we are very excited to have a deal" and said that she had spoken with President Biden about it. Biden later told reporters he was "feeling confident" about the bill.

In an address Wednesday afternoon at a truck plant in Pennsylvania, Biden added that he was working with Democrats and Republicans on the deal because "while there's a lot we don't agree on, I believe that we should be able to work together on the few things we do agree on."

The forward movement on the bill comes a week after a failed test vote on the deal, with Republicans saying Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was moving too quickly.

The bill is expected to be around $1.2 trillion over eight years with roughly $550 billion in new spending, but details on key components were still being worked out. Some procedural steps still lie ahead before the final passage.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the 10 GOP lawmakers in the talks, said there is $65 billion for broadband deployment in the bill. She acknowledged "it has not been easy" to get a deal, "but we have reached agreement on the major issues."

A White House fact sheet on the deal also outlines:

  • $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects;
  • $11 billion in transportation safety programs;
  • $39 billion in transit modernization and improved accessibility;
  • $66 billion in rail;
  • $7.5 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle chargers;
  • $73 billion in power infrastructure and clean energy transmission.
  • Portman said the bill is paid for, including using funds from combating fraud in unemployment assistance programs. The White House said it will also be offset in part by "targeted corporate user fees" as well as economic growth that's expected from the investments.

    The group is awaiting a final price tag from the Congressional Budget Office.

    Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, one of the Democrats involved in the talks, told reporters that the final text has not yet been fully circulated, but he expects the final agreement will be completed Wednesday.

    Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he expects the first vote will be on placeholder legislation that will later be amended to include the full text of the agreement. That process is not uncommon; it allows the Senate to move ahead while staff drafts the legal legislative language necessary for a bill to come up for a vote.

    The No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Thune of South Dakota, told reporters that Republicans still wanted to see the final details, but he was open to voting for the bill.

    "I want to encourage this because I think it's good to have a bipartisan exercise around here once in a while on something that matters, and it's important to people in the country," Thune said. He thought leaders would work on a deal to consider amendments so both sides could try to add elements.

    Thune opposed the procedural motion to advance the bill.

    Former President Donald Trump, who had pushed for a major infrastructure deal throughout his term, slammed the package, calling it "a loser for the USA, a terrible deal, and makes the Republicans look weak, foolish, and dumb." He urged Republicans not to support it and warned them, "if this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!"

    Separately, Senate Democrats continue to try to get agreement among all 50 of the members in their caucus on a $3.5 trillion spending package that includes the president's domestic priorities that some are calling "human infrastructure." Among these are an extension of the child care tax credit, climate change provisions, health care programs and potentially immigration reforms.

    They plan to use a process known as reconciliation to move that package through the chamber to avoid a Republican filibuster. McConnell has vowed no GOP members would back that massive package, so there is no room for error among Democrats in the narrowly divided Senate.

    Sinema told The Arizona Republic that while she supports beginning that 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."

    Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, told reporters Wednesday evening that next week Democrats would have 50 votes to approve the budget resolution. He said that the vote on the details on that package would probably not happen until September and while the Senate budget would be $3.5 trillion, the House could approve a larger amount.

    "You're not going to have a bipartisan bill unless you have a reconciliation bill of $3.5 trillion," Sanders said. "The working families of this country, the children of this country, the elderly people of this country deserve to have their needs met, and we intend to do just that."

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters she was encouraged by a likely Senate bipartisan deal but would not commit to passing it as is until the House of Representatives has a chance to review it. "We are rooting for it. We are hoping for the best," she said.

    Pelosi also reiterated her position that she will not bring it up for a vote until after the Senate passes a budget resolution outlining the terms of the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package.

    Schumer said on Wednesday that Democrats were "in very good shape" putting together the budget resolution.

    "Both tracks are moving forward in a very good way," Schumer said. Following the procedural vote Wednesday evening Schumer reiterated: "We are going to get the job done and we are on track."

    NPR's Kelsey Snell, Susan Davis and Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.