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Senate passes massive infrastructure package that is centerpiece of Biden agenda

The legislation faces hurdles in the House before it can be sent to Biden’s desk and cement a major bipartisan achievement.
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WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping $550 billion infrastructure bill that would make a huge investment in the nation’s roads, public transit, water and broadband.

The bill passed 69 to 30, with 19 Republicans joining all Democrats.

The passage marks a victory for President Joe Biden, who made rebuilding the nation's infrastructure the centerpiece of his campaign and who told the American people he could help usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

"After years and years of an infrastructure week, we’re on the cusp of an infrastructure decade," Biden said on Tuesday.

The bill passed the Senate after it was able to clear several procedural hurdles. The bill will go next to the House, where it faces some Democratic skepticism. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said the bill will not get a vote until the Senate passes a separate multitrillion-dollar package of safety net measures.

"Today, the Senate takes a decade's overdue step to revitalize America's infrastructure and give our workers, our businesses, our economy, the tools to succeed in the 21st century, the bill," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said ahead of the vote on the Senate floor.

"When the Senate is run with an open hand rather than a closed fist, senators can accomplish big things," Schumer continued. "So despite this long road we've taken, we have finally, finally reached the finish line."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, one of the lead negotiators, said ahead of the vote that the Senate was "about to make history" after presidents over the last few decades have tried and failed to pass an infrastructure package.

"There's a joke around town that infrastructure week has come and gone so many times that people are a little cynical when we talk about it," Portman said. "Well today is infrastructure day — we're actually going to see what we've been talking about which is the Senate, on a bipartisan basis, saying you know what, it is time to fix our roads and bridges, we can do so in a responsible way, not by raising taxes on the American people, but by making important investments in long-term capital assets that will last for years. "

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement, "This bipartisan package helps rebuild the middle class as it rebuilds our infrastructure – creating good-paying American jobs and turbocharging American competitiveness and growth."

"The House will continue to work with the Senate to ensure that our priorities For The People are included in the final infrastructure and reconciliation packages, in a way that is resilient and will Build Back Better," she said.

Schumer reiterated that the Senate will now “immediately move” to pass the budget resolution that will allow their party to craft a $3.5 trillion social safety net bill. Considering the resolution will require a marathon series of votes in the Senate that could last for hours, known as a "vote-a-rama."

"The two-track strategy is proceeding full steam ahead," Schumer said Tuesday.

Senators stayed in session over the weekend, delaying their August recess, trying to come to an agreement. Lawmakers fought over amendments and faced opposition from Republican senators, citing the bill's effect on the deficit, which stalled the final vote.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated last week that the bill would add $256 billion to the budget deficit over a 10-year span.

The bill lead authors — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio — disagreed with that assessment and said it would be fully paid for.

They argued the “CBO is limited in what it can include in its formal score,” and argued that additional economic growth and revenue as a result of the investments would cover the cost.

The legislation is popular. A Quinnipiac poll found that 65 percent of Americans support it, while 28 percent oppose it.

The package was a product of more than a month of negotiations between a group led by five Democrats and five Republicans. The vote capped off a lengthy amendment process where scores of senators — including some who voted to filibuster the bill — were given an opportunity to shape it.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said the bill shows that an often-broken Senate can still function.

“I think it's extremely important,” he said in an interview. “It’s important for us, not just for the American people.”