The approval came after months of negotiations and despite deficit concerns, reflecting an appetite in both parties for the long-awaited spending package.
Aug. 10, 2021Updated 5:35 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON — The Senate gave overwhelming bipartisan approval on Tuesday to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to rebuild the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges and fund new climate resilience and broadband initiatives, delivering a key component of President Biden’s agenda.
The vote, 69 to 30, was uncommonly bipartisan. The yes votes included Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and 18 others from his party who shrugged off increasingly shrill efforts by former President Donald J. Trump to derail it.
“This historic investment in infrastructure is what I believe you, the American people, want, what you’ve been asking for for a long, long time,” Mr. Biden said from the White House as he thanked Republicans for showing “a lot of courage.”
Mr. McConnell, who publicly declared that his priority was stopping the Biden agenda, said in a statement that “I was proud to support today’s historic bipartisan infrastructure deal and prove that both sides of the political aisle can still come together around common-sense solutions.”
The measure faces a potentially rocky and time-consuming path in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a majority of the nearly 100-member Progressive Caucus have said they will not vote on it unless and until the Senate passes a separate, even more ambitious $3.5 trillion social policy bill this fall. That could put the infrastructure bill on hold for weeks, if not months.
The legislation is, no doubt, substantial on its own. It would be the largest infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, touching nearly every facet of the American economy and fortifying the nation’s response to the warming of the planet. Funding for the modernization of the nation’s power grid would reach record levels, as would projects to better manage climate risks. Hundreds of billions of dollars would go to repairing and replacing aging public works projects.
With $550 billion in new federal spending, the measure would provide $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971. It would also renew and revamp existing infrastructure and transportation programs set to expire at the end of September.
Its success, painstakingly negotiated largely by a group of Republican and Democratic senators in consultation with White House officials, is a vindication of Mr. Biden’s belief that a bipartisan compromise was possible on a priority that has long been shared by both parties — even at a moment of deep political division.
“This is what it looks like when elected leaders take a step toward healing our country’s divisions rather than feeding those very divisions,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and a key negotiator, said before the bill’s passage.
Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said that “everyone involved in this effort can be proud of what this body is achieving today — the Senate is doing its job.”
With a bipartisan victory pocketed, Democrats turned immediately to a more partisan venture, a second social policy package that would fulfill the remainder of their spending priorities. The Senate’s $3.5 trillion social policy budget, which is expected to pass along party lines late Tuesday or early Wednesday, will allow Senate committees to draft legislation packed with policies to address climate change, health, education, and paid family and medical leave, and pass it over the threat of a filibuster. It will also include tax increases — and is expected to generate unanimous Republican opposition.
“Despite this long road we’ve taken, we have finally, finally reached the finish line,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said on Tuesday. But, directing his comments to colleagues eager to take up unaddressed priorities, he added, “We are moving on to a second track, which will make a generational transformation.”
The Senate vote capped a grueling, monthslong negotiation between the Biden administration and senators in both parties over the scope and size of an infrastructure bill. After an abbreviated effort to work with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, on a plan that could win backing from G.O.P. leaders, Mr. Biden turned his focus to a group of 10 moderate Republicans and Democrats who had helped strike the compromise that paved the way for a postelection pandemic relief package in December.
The senators and top White House officials spent weeks debating how to structure and finance the legislation over late-night meals, virtual meetings and phone calls. Even after the group triumphantly announced an outline in June, it took a month to translate that framework into legislation. Along the way, the effort appeared on the brink of collapse, after it failed a test vote in the Senate and Mr. Trump sniped at it from the sidelines, trying to persuade Republicans that they would pay a steep political price for supporting it.
“When we have more people on both sides of the aisle who want to do things in a partisan way, as opposed to figuring out how we can work together, I don’t think that’s in the best interests of the country,” Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire and one of the key negotiators, said in an interview. “It was really important for the continued relationships within the Senate that are so important to getting things done.”
Negotiators were particularly bedeviled by the question of how to pay for their plan. Republicans declared that they would not support any legislation that raised taxes and rejected a proposal to beef up I.R.S. enforcement against tax cheats, and Democrats ruled out raising user fees for drivers.
Democrats and Mr. Biden — who had initially proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan — made major concessions. The package includes far less funding than they had wanted for lead pipe replacement, transit and clean energy projects, among others.
To finance what remained, analysts said the government would most likely have to borrow heavily. On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would add $256 billion to the deficit over 10 years, contradicting the claims of its authors that their bill would be fully paid for.
That is nearly half of the new spending in the legislation, which includes a patchwork of measures purported to raise revenue to pay for it, including repurposing unspent pandemic relief funds, more tightly regulating cryptocurrency and delaying carrying out a Trump-era rule that would change the way drug companies can offer discounts to health plans for Medicare patients.
Fiscal watchdogs had warned that senators were using budgetary gimmicks to obscure the true cost of their agreement, and the budget office’s estimate appeared to confirm that suspicion. That in part prompted some of Mr. McConnell’s leadership deputies to peel away.
“I’m fully supportive of our members working together across party lines to try and solve new problems,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, told reporters. “A lot is just going to be put on the debt, and I think that’s wrong.”
But after days of voting on changes to the bill, which is more than 2,000 pages, most senators shrugged at the deficit figures.
Standing on fiscal principles proved difficult after repeated promises that an infrastructure bill was coming. Lawmakers in both parties stuffed the package with myriad priorities and projects, including the reconstruction of an Alaskan highway, a ban on vaping on Amtrak and $1 billion for the restoration of the Great Lakes. The legislation also includes $24 million for restoration of the San Francisco Bay, $106 million for the Long Island Sound and $238 million for the Chesapeake Bay.
The bill also carries major policy changes. It amounts to a tacit, bipartisan acknowledgment that the country is ill prepared for a worsening climate. Billions of dollars would be invested in projects to better protect homes from weather calamities, move vulnerable communities out of harm’s way and support new approaches to countering climate change.
Biden’s 2022 Budget
The 2022 fiscal year for the federal government begins on October 1, and President Biden has revealed what he’d like to spend, starting then. But any spending requires approval from both chambers of Congress. Here’s what the plan includes:
- Ambitious total spending: President Biden would like the federal government to spend $6 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year, and for total spending to rise to $8.2 trillion by 2031. That would take the United States to its highest sustained levels of federal spending since World War II, while running deficits above $1.3 trillion through the next decade.
- Infrastructure plan: The budget outlines the president’s desired first year of investment in his American Jobs Plan, which seeks to fund improvements to roads, bridges, public transit and more with a total of $2.3 trillion over eight years.
- Families plan: The budget also addresses the other major spending proposal Biden has already rolled out, his American Families Plan, aimed at bolstering the United States’ social safety net by expanding access to education, reducing the cost of child care and supporting women in the work force.
- Mandatory programs: As usual, mandatory spending on programs like Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare make up a significant portion of the proposed budget. They are growing as America’s population ages.
- Discretionary spending: Funding for the individual budgets of the agencies and programs under the executive branch would reach around $1.5 trillion in 2022, a 16 percent increase from the previous budget.
- How Biden would pay for it: The president would largely fund his agenda by raising taxes on corporations and high earners, which would begin to shrink budget deficits in the 2030s. Administration officials have said tax increases would fully offset the jobs and families plans over the course of 15 years, which the budget request backs up. In the meantime, the budget deficit would remain above $1.3 trillion each year.
It also includes $73 billion to update the nation’s electricity grid so it can carry more renewable energy, $7.5 billion to construct electric vehicle charging stations, $17.5 billion for clean buses and ferries, and $15 billion for removing lead pipes.
The agreement targets critical resources toward underserved communities, although not as much as Mr. Biden had requested. It would direct $1 billion over five years — slightly more than half of it in new federal funding — to a program to help reconnect communities divided by highway construction, as well as millions of dollars to help improve access to running water in tribal and Alaska Native communities.
It also includes money to restore lakes across the country, $66 billion in new funding for Amtrak and more funding for programs intended to provide safe commutes for pedestrians. It also creates a $350 million pilot program for projects that reduce collisions between vehicles and wildlife.
The bill dedicates an increasing amount each year for grants to clean up drinking water by removing lead-contaminated pipes and making other infrastructure upgrades. The legislation reserves at least $25 million per year for “small and disadvantaged communities.”
In the days before the measure passed, senators engaged in a last-ditch attempt to allow some exemptions to strict tax regulations on cryptocurrency brokers that had been included in the original bill, after pushback from senators in both parties. But without agreement on other amendments, negotiators ultimately failed to secure unanimous consent to make those changes.
The infrastructure legislation faces a tricky path in the House, where Ms. Pelosi has repeatedly said she will not take it up until the Senate clears the reconciliation bill. The House has also passed its own infrastructure bill, which includes more money for climate change mitigation and nearly $5.7 billion to pay for 1,473 home district projects, or earmarks, that were vetted by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
A handful of moderate Democrats have urged Ms. Pelosi to avoid delaying a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan agreement. But leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a letter to Ms. Pelosi, warned that a majority of its 96 members confirmed they would withhold their support for the legislation until the second, far more expansive package cleared the reconciliation process in the Senate.
“With all the respect in the world for the Senate, I’m glad it passed, I’m glad it’s bipartisan,” Ms. Pelosi said on Tuesday at an event in San Francisco. “But it is not the totality of the vision of Joe Biden and the congressional Democrats.”
“People want me to take up that bill, ‘Oh, take it up,’” she said, adding “but it’s not the end of the story.”