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US senators agree on Biden's infrastructure bill

August 2, 2021

The massive infrastructure plan could be Joe Biden's first major legislative achievement. But there still might be trouble ahead as not all Democrat lawmakers are onboard.

US Democratic Senator Joe Manchin III announces the bipartisan infrastructure bill
A group of ten Republican and Democratic Senators came together to draft the billImage: Rod Lamkey/CNP/picture alliance

United States senators released a highly anticipated infrastructure legislation package, which would fulfill one of President Joe Biden's major policy priorities. 

The bill is worth nearly $1 trillion (€842 billion) and calls for $550 billion in added federal spending. Among the major new investments would be $110 billion for roads and bridges; $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for rail; $55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure; as well as billions for airports, ports, broadband internet and electric vehicle charging stations.

Ten key senators and their staff labored over the weekend to produce 2,700 pages of the bill, which will soon be subject to the amendment process, where senators try to add or remove sections within it.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is hoping that the bill will not get stuck in this stage.

"We haven't done a large, bipartisan bill of this nature in a long time,'' Schumer said, vowing that a final vote could be held "in a matter of days.''

The US Senate is currently comprised of 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. But due to the so-called filibuster rule, no Senate legislation can be brought to a vote without a two-thirds majority, or 60 Senators.

Several Republicans sign on

Republicans have so far refused to support any of Biden's bills that they deem "too progressive" or too left-leaning, including the Democrat's original infrastructure plans. 

Although the filibuster rule could be removed with a simple majority of 51 votes, two  Democrats, Senators Krysten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have rejected calls to scrap it, arguing that major legislation must be approved with some Republican support.

"We know that this has been a long and sometimes difficult process, but we are proud this evening to announce this legislation,'' Senator Sinema said, adding that bill showed "we can put aside our own political differences for the good of the country.'' 

Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana all joined Sinema in writing the bill. 

"This is a really important bill because it takes our big, aging and outdated infrastructure in this country and modernizes it. That's good for everybody," Senator Portman said.

Liberal lawmakers wary of Biden's bill

If the bill passes the Senate, it must go to the House of Representatives for the final vote before Biden can sign it into law.  Divisions have plagued the Democratic-controlled House, with prominent members of the left-leaning "progressive caucus" already opposing the bill.

House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told US broadcaster CNN that she and her allies would only support the bill if Senators Sinema and Manchin endorse more ambitious spending targets.

"Bipartisan doesn't always mean that it's in the interest of the public good, frankly," Ocasio-Cortez said, shortly after Senators unveiled the bill.

Ocasio-Cortez, who supports eliminating the Senate filibuster rule, has previously clashed with Manchin and Sinema, recently accusing the Arizona senator of "tanking her own party's investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure."

jcg/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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