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U.S. Senate approaches finish line on $1 trillion infrastructure bill

Senators Arrive to Vote on Amendments to Infrastructure Bill
The exterior of the US Capitol is seen as Senators work to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill in Washington, U.S., August 8, 2021.
REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

As the U.S. Senate on Monday got closer to passing a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, Democrats released details of the expected $3.5 trillion companion bill addressing social spending and immigration that they aim to turn to next.

The first details of the larger bill — a key goal for progressive Democrats — showed that it would provide tax incentives for “clean” manufacturing, make community college free for two years and provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrant workers.

The first bill, which sits atop Democratic President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda and includes $550 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and internet access, cleared an important procedural hurdle late on Sunday when the Senate voted 69-28 in support of the provisions contained in the 2,702-page plan.

The Senate also voted 68-29 to limit further debate to a maximum of 30 hours, setting up a potential vote on passage early on Tuesday on the package, the result of months of bipartisan negotiations.

The massive spending bill is popular among many lawmakers in both parties because of the federal dollars it would deliver to their home states. Polls also show that Americans at large are supportive of the package.

But the moment of bipartisanship that produced it was likely to be fleeting as Democrats prepare to turn their attention next to the larger bill, which they aim to pass over Republican objections using a parliamentary maneuver called “budget reconciliation.”

Democrats are aiming to debate and pass this nonbinding resolution in coming days, which would serve as a framework for more detailed, binding legislation later this year. Republicans have strenuously objected to the size and cost of the follow-up package.

WEEKEND WORK

The Senate worked for a second straight weekend to advance the infrastructure bill aimed at repairing, expanding and improving roads, bridges, waterworks and schools, while also expanding high-speed internet service in underserved areas.

During debate on Sunday, Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada noted the boost for her state’s mining industry, saying new money would strengthen “a critical mineral and battery supply chain that supplies key components of cellphones and laptops, electric vehicles, solar panels and more.”

The Senate had been scheduled to begin a four-week summer recess, but instead found itself in session on both Saturday and Sunday, which saw little more than occasional speeches before the procedural votes.

Even with passage of the bill this week, senators will still not be able to go back to their home states or jump onto foreign trips popular during long recesses.

That is because Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer aims to launch immediately into debate of a budget framework that would provide the outlines for the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” bill that Democrats want to begin advancing in September.

It would include federal aid for home healthcare for seniors, along with possible immigration reforms and funding to address climate change.

Unlike the $1 trillion bill paying for traditional infrastructure projects, the larger one is not expected to gain Republican support. That would leave Democrats to pursue it under the special procedure known as “reconciliation” in which it could pass with a simple majority, instead of the 60 votes needed to advance most bills.

The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats claiming a majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote.

If the $1 trillion bill is approved by the Senate, as expected, the Democratic-led House of Representatives would still have to debate and vote on it, sometime after it returns in late September from its summer break.

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