Senators push infrastructure closer to finish

A $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package overcame a Senate hurdle, pushing it closer to passage despite a few holdouts.


National News

August 9, 2021 - 8:57 AM

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-NY) arrives at the US Capitol as negotiations continue on a bipartisan infrastructure bill in Washington, DC, on August 8, 2021. A huge infrastructure bill deemed historic by US President Joe Biden passed a key procedural hurdle the day before, with enough Republican senators joining Democrats to make its final passage in the upper chamber appear nearly certain. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators hoisted the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package over another hurdle late Sunday, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans pushing it closer to passage despite a few holdouts trying to derail one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities.

The rare bipartisan momentum was holding steady, a reflection of the bill’s popularity and the eagerness of senators to show voters back home they can deliver. One of the biggest investments of its kind in years, the package promises to unleash billions of dollars to upgrade roads, bridges, broadband internet, water pipes and other public works systems undergirding the nation. 

Senators easily overcame another 60-vote hurdle on a vote of 68-29. Final votes could drag into early Tuesday as a single GOP senator, Tennessee’s Bill Hagerty, refused to relent on the mandatory debate time.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., stressed to colleagues that they could proceed the “easy way or the hard way,” as the Senate slogged through its second consecutive weekend session.

“We’ll keep proceeding until we get this bill done,” Schumer said.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would provide what Biden has called a “historic investment” in public works programs, the first part of the president’s his rebuilding agenda. As many as 20 Republicans are expected to join Democrats in the evenly split Senate for what would be a robust final tally. If approved, it would go to the House.

“We’re on the cusp of seeing that move through the Senate,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on “Fox News Sunday,” citing “a remarkable coalition” that includes business, labor and lawmakers from both parties. “I think we’re about to get this done.”

Once voting wraps up, senators immediately will turn to the budget outline for  a $3.5 trillion package of child care, elder care and other programs that is a much more partisan undertaking and expected to draw only Democratic support.

Despite the momentum, action ground to a halt over the weekend when Hagerty, an ally of Donald Trump, forced the Senate to run out the clock on debate time, refusing to consent to speeding up the process. 

Hagerty, who had been Trump’s ambassador to Japan, was leading the effort to take as much time as needed to debate and amend the bipartisan bill, in part because he wants to slow the march toward Biden’s next big bill, which plans $3.5 trillion for child care, an expansion of Medicare for seniors and other so-called soft infrastructure needs.

Trump called Hagerty on Sunday morning, said a person familiar with the call who requested anonymity to discuss it. Hagerty said later Sunday in a speech on the Senate floor that he was trying to prevent a “socialist debt bomb” of new government spending.

The former president has been publicly critical of the bipartisan bill and criticizing Biden and the senators from both parties who support it, though it’s unclear whether Trump’s broadsides will have much sway with Republican senators. He celebrated Hagerty’s stand in a statement Sunday.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has so far allowed the bill to progress, despite the name-calling and criticism coming his way from Trump. “This is a compromise,” McConnell said.

As the weekend standoff dragged on, Republicans who helped negotiate the compromise spoke up Sunday commending the former president for having sparked infrastructure talks when he was in the White House even if those bills never panned out.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator, said it’s time overdue to improve the nation’s public works systems.