WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearing decision time, senators are wrapping up work on the bipartisan infrastructure plan and talks were underway Thursday to expedite consideration of the nearly $1 trillion proposal, with votes expected in the days ahead.
A much anticipated analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the legislation would increase the national debt by about $256 billion over the next decade. Senators wanted that information before votes on the package, which could start soon and push into Saturday.
The Senate has processed nearly two dozen amendments to the 2,700-page bill, a rare legislative undertaking, with more on tap. But none has substantially changed the framework of the public works package, which would send money for roads, bridges, water works, broadband and other projects to virtually every corner of the nation, and is a first phase of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure priorities.
“We can bring this bill to a close very shortly,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The package looks on track for Senate passage, a rare accord between Republicans and Democrats joining on a shared priority that also is essential to Biden’s agenda.
Once the bill clears the Senate, lawmakers will turn to the much more partisan undertaking on the next phase of Biden’s agenda: a $3.5 trillion proposal for what the White House calls human infrastructure — child care support, home health care, education and other expenditures that are Democratic priorities that Republicans have pledged to reject. Debate will extend into the fall.
Schumer wants the Senate to pass both the bipartisan package and a budget blueprint for the bigger proposal before senators depart for an August recess.
Dividing lines set, senators are eager to wrap up.
“I don’t think anybody’s looking to extend this out any longer than necessary,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters.
Key to watch will be how many Republicans join what’s expected to be all Democrats in supporting the bipartisan package as it heads toward votes.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had promised to be “100% focused” on stopping Biden’s agenda, but when it comes to the bipartisan infrastructure plan, he’s sounding like a go.
Republicans are almost certain to split over that bill, and McConnell’s eventual vote will carry weight.
McConnell has been acting and voting like a lawmaker ready to set aside — for a few days, anyway — his reputation as a roadblock for one of the Democratic president’s chief legislative priorities, opening the door to potentially giving his support for final passage.
“There’s an excellent chance it will be a success story for the country,” McConnell said Tuesday.
The package has much for senators to support, as they tap federal dollars for big-ticket public works projects that their states and cities are typically unable to support on their own.
In days of debate, senators backing the bipartisan package have risen to speak about it on the Senate floor.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has spoken of the dire need to bring running water to rural parts of her state, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., has focused on money to curb coastal erosion in his state and elsewhere.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talked about how $110 billion in new money for roads and bridges would mean access to markets for farms in Montana such as his own.
McConnell’s vote could make or break the package, serving up a victory for Biden with passage or delivering another failure by Washington to address the nation’s infrastructure needs. The Trump administration was unable to follow through on President Donald Trump’s call for investing trillions of dollars in infrastructure.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings, a longtime McConnell ally, said it’s easy to see how McConnell could get to “yes” on this first part of Biden’s infrastructure priorities.
“Just listen to what he said,” Jennings said. “He always said it should be a smaller package focused on roads bridges airports and broadband.”
Politically, the votes ahead could be a win-win for McConnell and Republicans to show some bipartisanship on this first package while launching into a strictly partisan broadside against the larger plan.
“I do think it gives Republicans senators a chance to say, ‘Look, they always claim we’re going to stop everything,’” Jennings said.
“It does give the Republicans a chance to say, `We’re for the stuff that makes sense and we’re against the stuff that doesn’t.’”
The Senate was expected to be quiet on Friday as many lawmakers attend funeral services for former Sen. Mike Enzi in Wyoming. But senators are bracing for another weekend session as they push ahead on both pieces of legislation.