Senate OKs infrastructure bill; fate in House tied to bigger budget bill

Bill provides $550 billion extra for roads, rail, broadband and more

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in the Capitol on Tuesday to preside over the Senate's passage of a massive infrastructure measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Kamala Harris arrives in the Capitol on Tuesday to preside over the Senate's passage of a massive infrastructure measure. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted August 10, 2021 at 11:50am, Updated August 11, 2021 at 12:15pm

Months of back-and-forth negotiations, squabbles over pay-fors and Zoom calls culminated in a long-expected, much-delayed Senate vote Tuesday to pass a sweeping bipartisan infrastructure package.

The bill passed 69-30, a margin that demonstrated its popularity in the evenly divided chamber. All 50 Democrats voted for final passage, as did 19 Republicans. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, did not vote.

The legislation includes $550 billion in new spending and reauthorizes highway and water programs, among other provisions. It would inject federal cash into roads, bridges, water systems, broadband, rail and transit, among other things.

And, though Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg estimated it’s about two-thirds of what President Joe Biden requested when he proposed his infrastructure package in March, it still represents what he called “a generational investment” in infrastructure.

Biden, touting the Senate vote in a White House event with Vice President Kamala Harris, called the measure transformative.

"After years and years of infrastructure week, we're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade that I truly believe will transform America."

But despite stops and starts over policy issues as granular as transit formula funding, the hard part may just be beginning. 

The Senate followed Tuesday’s vote by moving to take up the second part of Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda, a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that will set the guidelines for a reconciliation package that will address everything from Medicare to climate change to immigration policy to universal prekindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

The success of the reconciliation package, which the Senate is not expected to begin debating until September or later, will determine when the bipartisan bill approved Tuesday hits the House floor.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed not to put the bipartisan infrastructure package on the floor until she can also schedule the reconciliation package, with Biden’s other priorities, before the House as well.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Problem Solvers Caucus, predicted both measures would pass. 

“Basically, we have several planes up in the air, trying to come in for a landing in stormy weather, and we have air traffic controllers — our leadership in the House and the Senate — that are going to bring those planes down,” he said. “I'm not sure what order, or exactly when, but I’m absolutely certain the House will pass this infrastructure bill.”

Despite some resistance on the left and right flanks, he said, “I just don’t see anybody who is committed to governing saying no to this bill at the end of the day.”

Senators had sought to pass the bipartisan package as early as last Thursday, but were thwarted by Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, a freshman Republican who opposes the bipartisan bill because a Congressional Budget Office score found it will add $256 billion to the deficit over 10 years. Hagerty delayed another opportunity to speed the process on Saturday, insisting that senators take up the full 30 hours for debate of both a substitute amendment and the overall bill.

That insistence initially put the bill on a path to final passage vote shortly after 3 a.m. Tuesday, but Senate leadership agreed to delay the vote until the far more tenable hour of 11 a.m.

The legislation was negotiated by a bipartisan group of 22 senators led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio. Two of the Republicans who had early on been part of the negotiations, Todd Young of Indiana and Jerry Moran of Kansas, announced this week that they would not back the bill. Both are up for reelection next year, and both expressed concern about the bill’s impact on deficits in their statements announcing opposition.

In an interview Monday, Buttigieg said the bill will provide a legislative road map for many of the priorities of the Biden administration, including equity and climate change.

“I think last year the conversation was largely on, you know what happens if there's no legislative majority and you just have to cobble together what you can with administrative action rule-making,” he said. “Now we find ourselves in a place where we're in a position to do all of those things, so of course within the department.”

As the bill moves to the House, it will likely face pushback from progressive Democrats who want to include things the Senate negotiators did not, and by conservative Republicans, many prodded to oppose it by former President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, hours before the Senate was to vote on the bill, Trump sent out yet another statement urging Republicans not to give his successor in the White House a win. This one focused on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted for final passage.

“Nobody will ever understand why Mitch McConnell allowed this non-infrastructure bill to be passed,” Trump wrote.