Senate Democrats push ahead two-track infrastructure votes

Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) walk together as the Senate continues to work through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, on Aug. 9.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

By Richard Cowan and David Morgan

The U.S. Senate was poised to pass a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that is one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities sometime Tuesday, with Democrats vowing to follow up with a much larger $3.5 trillion bill.

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.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday claimed an early victory for his “two-track” legislative strategy, saying the bipartisan bill was on a “glide path” to passage on Tuesday and predicted the Senate would also tackle the larger budget resolution before leaving for a weeks-long August recess.

“We have managed to steer two trains at the same time. There have been some bumps. There have been some delays. But the Senate is on track to finish both,” Schumer said in a floor speech.

The first infrastructure 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 it.

Democrats are aiming to debate and pass the nonbinding $3.5 trillion 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, which Democrats aim to pass without their votes through a process called “budget reconciliation.”

Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, told reporters that the vote on the infrastructure bill could come at a “normal” time on Tuesday, rather than the middle of the night.

“I think that gets done at a normal time. That has to, because that cloture ripens and it can get pushed from 4 a.m. in the morning, probably to mid-morning tomorrow,” Thune said.

The ambitious goals of the $3.5 trillion budget plan will be reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian, who has the power to strip out provisions found to be at odds with Senate rules. The full Senate, however, could vote to overrule such decisions.

That wide-ranging bill would include about $726 billion to provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year olds as well as free community college, $332 billion for affordable housing and $198 billion for clean energy.

A Democratic memo said the $3.5 trillion costs would be fully paid for by a combination of tax increases, savings in federal health care programs and projected long-term economic growth.

The latter claim is debated by many economists who often disagree over the accuracy of the economic impact stemming from new policies enacted by Washington.

There would be no tax increases for those making under $400,000 a year, Democrats said.

The tax increases, which already have been previewed by the Biden administration and Senate Democrats, would hit high-income earners and would be coupled with beefed-up IRS tax enforcement. The measure also calls for a “carbon polluter import fee.”

The plan also called for extending a new, expanded child tax credit that progressives wanted to make permanent. And it would provide “relief” to tax filers bumping up against a cap on a state and local tax deduction tightened by a 2017 Republican-backed tax law.

Still unclear is whether Democrats will attach a debt limit increase to the reconciliation bill that will be developed in coming weeks or will seek another way of raising Washington’s nearly exhausted borrowing authority. The Senate’s top Republicans, Mitch McConnell, has urged them to do so, saying that his party will not vote for it.

“Democrats want Republicans to help them raise the debt limit so they can keep spending historic sums of money with zero Republican input and zero Republican votes,” McConnell said. “So our friends across the aisle should not expect traditional bipartisan borrowing to finance their non-traditional, reckless taxing and spending spree. That’s not how it’s going to work.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday again urged Congress to take quick action in a bipartisan way.

Passing any major legislation is difficult given the 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, with Democrats claiming a majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives.

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



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