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PoliticsUnited States of America

US Senate passes $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill

August 10, 2021

The United States Senate passed the monster spending bill in a big win for President Joe Biden. The White House described the sweeping bill's passage as "historic."

US Capitol, Washington DC
After months of negotiations the infrastructure bill has passed the Senate and will return to the House of RepresentativesImage: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

The US Senate on Tuesday passed President Joe Biden's $1.2 trillion (€1 trillion) infrastructure plan. The bill, which earned votes from a number of Republicans, passed with a simple majority in the upper chamber.

The 69-30 vote in the evenly divided body came some seven weeks after Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stood alongside Democratic and Republican senators and hailed a preliminary agreement on badly needed fixes to the nation's roads, bridges, ports and internet connections. 

"There's been detours and everything else but this will do a whole lot of good for America," said Schumer on Tuesday.

Known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the bill passed Tuesday was put forth by a group of 10 senators acting on Biden's campaign promise to present a scaled-down version of his initial $2.3 trillion "Build Back Better" proposal in hopes of attracting support on both sides of the political aisle.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, announced the results of the vote.

Infrastructure bills: Something for everyone

In the end, passage of the infrastructure bill also marks a return to classic legislative bargaining, offering all involved a chance to deliver spoils to their districts.

"This infrastructure bill is not the perfect bill," said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who acknowledged that she and her colleagues thought it "better to get some of what our constituents want, rather than none of it."

The bill in its current form proposes almost $550 billion in new spending over the next five years. That spending comes on top of current federal authorizations for public works in virtually every corner of the country.

Biden has touted the bill as "historic," akin to the building of the transcontinental railroad or the interstate highway system.

Where is all that money going?

Money from the bill will be directed toward rebuilding dilapidated US roads and bridges , as well as increasing the protection of coastlines against climate change, protecting public utilities from cyberattack and modernizing the electric grid. 

Public transit will see new funding as will airports and freight rail operators and most of the country's lead water pipes may be replaced.

Moreover, the bill could provide $65 billion for broadband connectivity. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said she negotiated that provision into the bill because the coronavirus pandemic showed that broadband access, "is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity." 

Tuesday's $1.2 trillion bill is not the only plan on the table. There is a second $3.5 trillion plan in the wings as well. The larger bill has proven far more divisive than the first due to its far broader definition of infrastructure and what falls within it (health, education, climate change, social welfare).

Beyond that, financing has been a dealbreaker for many opposed to the second measure as it would be paid for by higher taxes on corporations and the rich.

Tuesday's bipartisan package is to be funded by redirecting money earmarked for other things such as COVID-19 aid.

Biden’s America: Too damaged to lead?

Can either infrastructure bill pass in the end?

Tuesday's bill will now return to the US House of Representatives, where it originated, for final approval.  

Though Democrats have a majority in the House, passage of the bill is far from certain there due to clashing opinions within the party, where liberal members say it does not go far enough.

Those members also insist they will continue to push for passage of Biden's $3.5 billion plan as well, pledging to use parliamentary budgeting processes to go it alone if necessary. 

Republicans, on the other hand, have returned to arguing for fiscal conservatism now that they are in the opposition, warning the bill is far too expensive and will add to the federal deficit.

Ultimately, negotiations are likely to be drawn out and contentious with a final vote expected this fall. In a hint of things to come, more moderate legislators urged Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to bring the bipartisan bill to the House floor quickly, while also raising concerns about the larger package.

Should Tuesday's bill be approved by the House, it would indeed mark a rare victory for bipartisan dealmaking in a deeply divided Washington DC., and allow Biden to point to it as proof of his ability to reach consensus with political adversaries. 

'Completely unlike his predecessor'

js/wmr (AFP, Reuters)