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.

Tuesday, August 10th, 2021

A momentous day: U.S. Senate gives final approval to bipartisan infrastructure bill

Bipar­ti­san leg­is­la­tion to invest seri­ous mon­ey in tack­ling Amer­i­ca’s per­sis­tent infra­struc­ture deficit won final approval in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate today, with more than a dozen Repub­li­cans cross­ing the aisle to deliv­er a lop­sided mar­gin of vic­to­ry for Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s top leg­isla­tive priority.

By a vote of six­ty-nine to thir­ty, the Sen­ate passed its ver­sion of H.R. 3684, offi­cial­ly titled the INVEST in Amer­i­ca Act, short­ly before noon East­ern Time. “INVEST” is short for Invest­ing in a New Vision for the Envi­ron­ment and Sur­face Trans­porta­tion, and was giv­en final pas­sage in the House on July 1st.

“I want to thank the group of sen­a­tors — Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans — for doing what they told me they would do,” said a delight­ed Pres­i­dent Joe Biden in remarks at the White House. “The death of this leg­is­la­tion was mild­ly pre­ma­ture, as report­ed. They said they were will­ing to work in a bipar­ti­san man­ner, and I want to thank them for keep­ing their word. That’s just what they did.”

“After years and years and years of ‘Infra­struc­ture Week,’ ” Biden con­tin­ued (get­ting in a dig at his pre­de­ces­sor’s many fail­ures) “we’re on the cusp of an infra­struc­ture decade that I tru­ly believe will trans­form America.”

“This is about us doing the real, hard work of gov­ern­ing,” the Pres­i­dent said lat­er. “This is about democ­ra­cy deliv­er­ing for the peo­ple. This is about win­ning the future. It’s about doing our job. This is about build­ing an econ­o­my from the bot­tom up and the mid­dle out, giv­ing every­one a decent chance at a decent life.”

Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer was ebullient.

“Today, the Sen­ate takes a decades-over­due step to revi­tal­ize America’s infra­struc­ture and give our work­ers, our busi­ness­es, our econ­o­my the tools to suc­ceed in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry,” the New York Demo­c­rat said in floor remarks hail­ing the long-await­ed vote. “The bill will make large and sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in both pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and job cre­ation in Amer­i­ca for decades to come.”

“To my col­leagues, par­tic­u­lar­ly the group of ten, then eleven, then twen­ty-two, who worked so hard in a bipar­ti­san way: congratulations!”

The final bill includes many pro­vi­sions that orig­i­nat­ed in leg­is­la­tion intro­duced by the Pacif­ic North­west­’s U.S. Sen­a­tors, like Pat­ty Mur­ray’s Clean School Bus Act and Dig­i­tal Equi­ty Act and Maria Cantwell’s fed­er­al cul­vert replace­ment pro­gram.

Mur­ray and Cantwell both chair key Sen­ate com­mit­tees: Mur­ray runs HELP (Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions) and Cantwell runs Com­merce, putting them both in a posi­tion to pos­i­tive­ly influ­ence the text of the legislation.

“This bill rep­re­sents a his­toric gen­er­a­tional invest­ment in our infrastructure—it will be the sin­gle largest invest­ment in bridge repair since we built the inter­state high­way sys­tem, and the largest invest­ment in pub­lic tran­sit and clean ener­gy trans­mis­sion in his­to­ry,” said Mur­ray in a statement.

“Wash­ing­ton State fam­i­lies will see the direct ben­e­fits of these invest­ments: our kids will breathe clean air to and from school, rur­al com­mu­ni­ties will final­ly have access to reli­able high-speed inter­net, and we are going to put folks from every part of the state to work with good-pay­ing jobs by build­ing out our infra­struc­ture— repair­ing our bridges, build­ing elec­tric vehi­cle charg­ing sta­tions, replac­ing lead pipes, and every­thing in between,” the Sen­a­tor added.

“Impor­tant­ly, I’ll keep work­ing with the admin­is­tra­tion to ensure the jobs we cre­ate are union jobs with strong pro­tec­tions for workers.”

“This is an impor­tant invest­ment in our phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture — and next we’ll get right to work on secur­ing a tru­ly his­toric invest­ment in Amer­i­can fam­i­lies and work­ers by pass­ing the bud­get res­o­lu­tion,” Mur­ray pledged.

“We’re going to make child care afford­able for work­ing fam­i­lies, enact uni­ver­sal pre‑k, pass the first ever com­pre­hen­sive nation­al paid leave pro­gram, tack­le the cli­mate cri­sis, move for­ward on immi­gra­tion reform, boost the sup­ply of afford­able hous­ing, and so much more,” Mur­ray said, describ­ing some of the pri­or­i­ties that the Sen­ate Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus hopes to achieve through reconciliation.

“The infra­struc­ture bill makes seri­ous invest­ments in some of our salmon recov­ery chal­lenges,” said Sen­a­tor Cantwell in a state­ment. “For the first time, the bill cre­ates a new cul­vert removal and habi­tat restora­tion grant pro­gram that pri­or­i­tizes salmon and will open up spawn­ing habi­tat. The bill also pro­vides robust fund­ing for EPA region­al efforts to clean up Puget Sound as well as a sig­nif­i­cant down pay­ment in the Pacif­ic Coastal Salmon Recov­ery Fund.”

“For far too long, the phrase ‘infra­struc­ture week’ was noth­ing but a cru­el joke for com­mu­ni­ties through­out Ore­gon and the Amer­i­can West need­ing sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments to deal with cat­a­stroph­ic wild­fires, severe drought, hard-hit rur­al economies and more dur­ing the pan­dem­ic and well before that his­toric cri­sis,” U.S. Sen­a­tor and Sen­ate Finance Com­mit­tee Chair Ron Wyden said.

“I’m grat­i­fied the Sen­ate act­ed with resolve today to deliv­er help to fam­i­lies and job-cre­at­ing small busi­ness­es. I’ll keep work­ing in a sim­i­lar vein in the upcom­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pack­age to deliv­er on equal­ly-impor­tant pri­or­i­ties to ensure cli­mate action, build a strong and fair econ­o­my with bet­ter jobs, expand afford­able health care and make it eas­i­er to sup­port a family.”

The final bill approved by the Sen­ate jet­ti­soned some objec­tion­able plans orig­i­nal­ly in the bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture frame­work that would have opened the door to the pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic assets like the Bon­neville Pow­er sys­tem here in the Pacif­ic North­west. Con­se­quent­ly, the final bill is leg­is­la­tion that NPI can sup­port, though it is imper­a­tive that we also fund cli­mate action invest­ments and sup­ports for fam­i­lies in tan­dem through the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process.

The roll call from the Pacif­ic North­west was as fol­lows:

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

Vot­ing Nay Against: Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Steve Daines (MT)

In addi­tion to Daines — the only sen­a­tor from the region to vote nay — twen­ty-nine oth­er Repub­li­cans opposed the leg­is­la­tion. Here’s the full list of nos:

Bar­ras­so (R‑WY)
Black­burn (R‑TN)
Booz­man (R‑AR)
Braun (R‑IN)
Cornyn (R‑TX)
Cot­ton (R‑AR)
Cruz (R‑TX)
Daines (R‑MT)
Ernst (R‑IA)
Hager­ty (R‑TN)
Haw­ley (R‑MO)
Hyde-Smith (R‑MS)
Inhofe (R‑OK)
John­son (R‑WI)
Kennedy (R‑LA)
Lank­ford (R‑OK)
Lee (R‑UT)
Lum­mis (R‑WY)
Mar­shall (R‑KS)
Moran (R‑KS)
Paul (R‑KY)
Rubio (R‑FL)
Sasse (R‑NE)
Scott (R‑FL)
Scott (R‑SC)
Shel­by (R‑AL)
Thune (R‑SD)
Toomey (R‑PA)
Tuberville (R‑AL)
Young (R‑IN)

Among the sen­a­tors you see above are a cou­ple who are up in 2022 and could be vul­ner­a­ble: Ron John­son of Wis­con­sin and Mar­co Rubio of Florida.

The bipar­ti­san infra­struc­ture frame­work’s seal of approval in the Sen­ate is def­i­nite­ly a big deal, and it’s under­stand­able why Biden is celebrating.

But even though this is a water­shed moment for the Biden-Har­ris admin­is­tra­tion, the bill still has to go back to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives before it can get to the Pres­i­dent. And Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi has said repeat­ed­ly this infra­struc­ture pack­age needs to be accom­pa­nied by the megabud­get bill that invests in the pri­or­i­ties Repub­li­cans would­n’t agree to, or else they won’t bring it up.

That’s why, almost right after pass­ing H.R. 3864, the Sen­ate moved straight on to con­sid­er­a­tion of the bud­get res­o­lu­tion, which was devel­oped under the lead­er­ship of Bernie Sanders (I‑Vermont). That’s right (or should we say left!) — Bernie Sanders! He did­n’t win the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, but he’s eager­ly tak­en on a new­ly impor­tant role in the Sen­ate fol­low­ing the 2020 election.

“To my col­leagues who are con­cerned that this [the infra­struc­ture bill] does not do enough on cli­mate, for fam­i­lies, and mak­ing cor­po­ra­tions and the rich pay their fair share: We are mov­ing on to a sec­ond track, which will make a gen­er­a­tional trans­for­ma­tion in these areas,” Major­i­ty Leader Chuck Schumer said in remarks.

Thir­ty-one record­ed votes have already been tak­en on the megabud­get res­o­lu­tion thus far, with the Sen­ate work­ing into the night — a burst of Sen­ate activ­i­ty that is known in Capi­tol Hill par­lance as vote-a-rama.

Mean­while, on the House side, Major­i­ty Leader Ste­ny Hoy­er announced that the House will return from late sum­mer recess on August 23rd to con­sid­er the leg­is­la­tion passed by the Sen­ate. The House had pre­vi­ous­ly not been sched­uled to recon­vene until late Sep­tem­ber. Sen­si­bly, lead­er­ship is cut­ting the recess short so that the House will be in a posi­tion to act instead of wast­ing pre­cious time.

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