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'A big deal': $550 billion infrastructure spending deal passes key test vote in Senate

Senators struck the deal just hours earlier. The chamber may work into the weekend to finish up passage.

WASHINGTON — A major infrastructure package passed a key test vote Wednesday in the Senate, just hours after a bipartisan working group announced a deal after more than a month of negotiating.

The Senate voted 67-32 to begin debate on the measure, getting 17 Republicans to sign on, more than the 10 needed to break a filibuster.

The proposal includes $550 billion in new spending to build roads, public transit and other priorities of President Joe Biden, which would inject a windfall of money into a series of transportation projects that have long enjoyed support from both parties.

"It is a big deal," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told NBC News.

Final passage is not assured. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said senators may work into the weekend to finish it up.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said at a news conference after the vote: "This time, we're going to get it done. We took our first important step tonight."

Portman and other Republicans announced the agreement earlier in the day after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who voted to advance the proposal.

The agreement came after the two parties said they had resolved contentious issues like the distribution of money between highways and public transportation, as well as broadband policy.

"This bill is paid for," Portman said.

The 17 Republicans who joined all 50 Democratic-voting senators were: Portman, McConnell, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelly Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, James Risch of Idaho, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd Young of Indiana.

"I think the strength of our vote tonight showed that we have support from both parties from folks who are fiscally responsible, fiscally conservative," Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said at a news conference.

In a statement, President Joe Biden hailed the bipartisan Senate agreement as the "most significant long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century."

"This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things," he said. "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."

The $550 billion in new spending on infrastructure projects, which was confirmed by two aides familiar with the negotiations, is down from the $579 billion negotiators had previously targeted. The spending would amount to $1 trillion when other, expected funding for transportation projects is factored in.

Collins said she was "delighted." She said she has been working with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to finalize the broadband policies.

"There is $65 billion in broadband deployment and affordability programs. Our goal is to ensure that there is far greater access to high-speed internet services," Collins said.

Just before the vote, former President Donald Trump released a statement calling it "a terrible deal" and telling Republicans that they look "weak, foolish, and dumb" for supporting it. He did not identify any policies he opposes and did not say what GOP negotiators should have asked for.

Cassidy appeared to take a dig at a similar statement Trump released this week objecting to the infrastructure deal, which was largely ignored on Capitol Hill.

"I am amazed that there's some who oppose this just because they think that if you ever get anything done, somehow it's a sign of weakness," Cassidy told reporters. "I have no clue what they mean. My state has been impacted more than any other state by flooding and natural disasters these past two years."

He said the package includes $110 billion for roads.

Portman said that the measure will be "very open" to amendments and that the bipartisan negotiators want it to be a fair process for Republicans and Democrats.

"My hope is that we'll move quickly but give members a chance to do that. I don't know how long it's going to take. It's not up to us," he said. "It's up to leadership but also to members."