NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021

Bipartisan infrastructure bill advances in U.S. Senate, but still faces hurdles to passage

A bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture bill nego­ti­at­ed by Ohio Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Rob Port­man and Ari­zona Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tor Kyrsten Sine­ma moved for­ward ear­li­er today when two-thirds of the cham­ber’s mem­bers (all Democ­rats and inde­pen­dents, plus sev­en­teen Repub­li­cans) vot­ed to invoke clo­ture on the leg­is­la­tion, allow­ing it to final­ly be for­mal­ly con­sid­ered on the Sen­ate floor.

The com­pro­mise leg­is­la­tion, which has the sup­port of the White House, is being hailed by the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion as a ground­break­ing set of invest­ments in every­thing from bridges and broad­band to mass tran­sit and water pipes.

In a state­ment, Pres­i­dent Joe Biden said:

I am pleased to join a bipar­ti­san group of Unit­ed States Sen­a­tors and announce our deal to make the most sig­nif­i­cant long-term invest­ment in our infra­struc­ture and com­pet­i­tive­ness in near­ly a century.

I want to thank the bipar­ti­san group for work­ing togeth­er and the com­mit­tee chairs for rais­ing their ideas and con­cerns with me, Vice Pres­i­dent Har­ris, and mem­bers of the Cabinet.

This deal sig­nals to the world that our democ­ra­cy can func­tion, deliv­er, and do big things. As we did with the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road and the inter­state high­way, we will once again trans­form Amer­i­ca and pro­pel us into the future.

This deal makes key invest­ments to put peo­ple to work all across the country—in cities, small towns, rur­al com­mu­ni­ties, and across our coast­lines and plains.

It will put Amer­i­cans to work in good-pay­ing, union jobs repair­ing our roads and bridges. It will put plumbers and pip­efit­ters to work replac­ing all of the nation’s lead water pipes so every child and every Amer­i­can can turn on the faucet at home or school and drink clean water—including in low-income com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or that have been dis­pro­por­tion­al­ly affect­ed by dan­ger­ous lead pipes.

Amer­i­cans will build trans­mis­sion lines and upgrade our pow­er grid to be more resilient and clean­er. Amer­i­cans will strength­en our infra­struc­ture, like our lev­ees, in the face of extreme weath­er like super­storms, wild­fires, droughts, hur­ri­canes, and heat waves.

Amer­i­can work­ers will make a his­toric invest­ment to install the first-ever nation­al net­work elec­tric vehi­cle charg­ing sta­tions and under­take crit­i­cal envi­ron­men­tal clean-ups.

This bipar­ti­san deal is the most impor­tant invest­ment in pub­lic tran­sit in Amer­i­can his­to­ry and the most impor­tant invest­ment in rail since the cre­ation of Amtrak fifty years ago.

It will deliv­er high speed inter­net to every American.

And, we’re going to do it with­out rais­ing tax­es by one cent on peo­ple mak­ing less than $400,000 a year — no gas tax increase and no fee on elec­tric vehicles.

This agree­ment will help ensure that Amer­i­ca can com­pete in the glob­al econ­o­my just when we are in a race with Chi­na and the rest of the world for the twen­ty-first Century.

And, it comes at a crit­i­cal time. We are emerg­ing from this pan­dem­ic with an econ­o­my that is back from the brink. We are see­ing the fastest job growth on record. We are expe­ri­enc­ing the fastest eco­nom­ic growth in near­ly four decades.

Every­one from unions to busi­ness lead­ers and econ­o­mists left, right, and cen­ter believe the pub­lic invest­ments in this deal will mean more jobs, high­er pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and high­er growth for our econ­o­my over the long term. Experts believe that the major­i­ty of the deal’s ben­e­fits will flow to work­ing families.

Of course, nei­ther side got every­thing they want­ed in this deal.

But that’s what it means to com­pro­mise and forge consensus—the heart of democ­ra­cy. As the deal goes to the entire Sen­ate, there is still plen­ty of work ahead to bring this home. There will be dis­agree­ments to resolve and more com­pro­mise to forge along the way.

But the bot­tom line is—the Bipar­ti­san Infra­struc­ture Deal is a blue-col­lar blue­print to rebuild Amer­i­ca that will help make our his­toric eco­nom­ic recov­ery a his­toric long-term boom.

To say that nei­ther side got every­thing they want­ed in the deal seems like a big under­state­ment. Get­ting sev­en­teen Repub­li­cans on board came at a steep price.

The final com­pro­mise con­tains less mon­ey for pri­or­i­ties like tran­sit than the admin­is­tra­tion and Demo­c­ra­t­ic nego­tia­tors had pro­posed, lead­ing the Pacif­ic North­west­’s own Peter DeFazio (D‑Oregon, 4th Dis­trict) to com­plain: “From what we have heard, hav­ing seen no text, this bill is going to be sta­tus quo, 1950s pol­i­cy with a lit­tle tiny add-on… If it’s what I think it is, I will be opposed.”

DeFazio is the Chair of the House­’s Trans­porta­tion and Infra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee, and is a key voice for the House Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus on infrastructure.

DeFazio’s col­league Prami­la Jaya­pal, mean­while, warned that the Con­gres­sion­al Pro­gres­sive Cau­cus — which she chairs — would not sup­port the bipar­ti­san bill unless a larg­er appro­pri­a­tions bill done through rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is also sent over from the Sen­ate with mon­ey for pri­or­i­ties Repub­li­cans won’t support.

“The invest­ments we iden­ti­fied months ago are long­stand­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­or­i­ties, includ­ing afford­able hous­ing, Medicare expan­sion, strength­en­ing the care econ­o­my, cli­mate action, and a roadmap to cit­i­zen­ship. Our Cau­cus will con­tin­ue to demand that Con­gress ful­fill the man­date we were elect­ed on: to deliv­er nec­es­sary, urgent, and trans­for­ma­tion­al change for work­ing fam­i­lies,” Jaya­pal said in a state­ment pub­lished by the cau­cus.

The votes do not exist in the House to pass the Sen­ate’s bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture com­pro­mise with­out the sup­port of the Pro­gres­sive Caucus.

The White House knows this, but has been focused on break­ing the log­jam for the Amer­i­can Jobs Plan (or com­po­nents of it, any­way) in the Sen­ate, which only has a bare major­i­ty of fifty Demo­c­ra­t­ic and inde­pen­dent senators.

Sev­er­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors — chiefly Sine­ma and West Vir­gini­a’s Joe Manchin — have been vocal about their desire for bipar­ti­san­ship and have insist­ed on try­ing to find com­mon ground with Repub­li­cans like Ohio’s Portman.

The White House has played ball, with Biden’s team engaged in talks and the Pres­i­dent him­self par­tic­i­pat­ing in meet­ings to facil­i­tate a deal.

After weeks of frag­ile nego­ti­a­tions and dead ends, the effort to secure a bipar­ti­san bill appears to be yield­ing some fruit, but many hur­dles remain.

Not only does the bipar­ti­san bill still have to get vot­ed out of the Sen­ate, but the cham­ber also then has to send over the big­ger appro­pri­a­tions pack­age that House pro­gres­sives have staked their sup­port on (which some Demo­c­ra­t­ic sen­a­tors are also very keen to get to Biden’s desk and signed into law). House Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi — who is con­sid­ered by many peo­ple to be Con­gress’ most skilled vote counter — has said the bipar­ti­san bill won’t be con­sid­ered if it’s sent alone.

Sine­ma angered pro­gres­sives today when she said she did not want to sup­port a bill that invest­ed $3.5 tril­lion in the nation’s needs, say­ing that fig­ure was too high. But if she wants her bipar­ti­san bill to clear the House, she will need to vote for the appro­pri­a­tions pack­age, or there will be no deal at all, since not a sin­gle Repub­li­can is expect­ed to vote for the appro­pri­a­tions package.

Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray, a vet­er­an appro­pri­a­tor and the third-rank­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic mem­ber of the Sen­ate, char­ac­ter­ized the vote on the deal as a pos­i­tive devel­op­ment, but stressed that get­ting the larg­er appro­pri­a­tions pack­age across the fin­ish line was also just as essential.

“We’ve been work­ing on this impor­tant bipar­ti­san bill for weeks, and I’m glad we’re final­ly mov­ing towards a vote, because we have to get this done,” said Mur­ray. “The peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton State sim­ply can’t wait any longer for essen­tial invest­ments in our roads and bridges, pub­lic tran­sit, clean drink­ing water, our ener­gy grid, and oth­er crit­i­cal phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture needs.”

“I want to be clear that this bill is just step one,” Mur­ray continued.

“Once we get this done, we will move on to a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pack­age to even the play­ing field for work­ing fam­i­lies and help our coun­try build back stronger and fair­er… From afford­able hous­ing, to invest­ing in home care for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and old­er Amer­i­cans, to mak­ing com­mu­ni­ty col­lege free, to build­ing our pub­lic health infra­struc­ture — there is so much more work that needs to be done, so this bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture pack­age is only the beginning.”

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west to invoke clo­ture on H.R. 3684 (offi­cial­ly titled the INVEST in Amer­i­ca Act) was as follows:

Vot­ing Aye to Invoke Clo­ture: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­a­tors Pat­ty Mur­ray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT); Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Lisa Murkows­ki (AK), Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID)

Vot­ing Nay to Fil­i­buster: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tors Dan Sul­li­van (AK) and Steve Daines (MT)

The final vote was six­ty-sev­en to thir­ty-two, with one not vot­ing (Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Dan Rounds, of South Dakota).

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