A roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure investment bill advanced in the US Senate on Wednesday (local time), marking a key step towards formal debate and possible passage of the emerging legislation.
The Senate voted 67-32 to take the first procedural step towards debating the bill, which has Democratic President Joe Biden’s support.
On this first procedural vote, all 48 Democrats, two independents, and 17 Republicans supported the bipartisan agreement reached after months of negotiations.
Democrats intend the bill – which includes funding for roads, bridges, broadband and other physical infrastructure – to be the first of a pair of packages, followed by a sweeping $US3.5 trillion ($NZ5tn) “human infrastructure” package that faces staunch Republican opposition and some dissent among moderate Democrats.
Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Senator Rob Portman, the two lead Senate negotiators, announced Wednesday’s agreement separately to reporters.
Republicans blocked a similar move last week, saying details were not nailed down. In the latest bill, details on transit and broadband were still being finalised but lawmakers said legislative text would be completed soon.
“We’re excited to have a deal,” Sinema said. “We’ve got most of the text done, so we’ll be releasing it and then we’ll update it as we get those last pieces finalised.”
The agreement includes $US110 billion ($NZ156b) for roads, $US73b ($NZ105b) for power grid spending, $US66b ($NZ95b) for railways, $US65b ($NZ93b) to expand broadband access, $US55b ($NZ79b) for clean drinking water, $US50b ($NZ72b) for environmental resiliency, $US39b ($NZ56b) for public transit and $US25b ($NZ36b) for airports, the White House said.
Addressing a concern over funding among Republican lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Portman said the package is “more than paid for” and added: “We look forward to moving ahead and having a healthy debate.”
Officials said the package would be financed through a combination of measures. The largest was redirecting $US205b ($NZ294b) in Covid-19 relief funds. Another was recouping $US50b ($NZ72b) in fraudulently paid unemployment benefits during the pandemic and getting states to return unused federal unemployment funds, raising another $US50b $NZ72b).
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was investigating whether Covid-19 spending on hospital and nursing home providers is being tapped, with hospital admissions from the highly contagious Delta variant on the rise. “I’m gathering facts,” he said.
The bipartisan legislation is an important part of Biden’s larger domestic policy agenda. Democratic leaders intend to proceed with a massive $US3.5 trillion ($NZ5 trillion) budget “reconciliation” package. Republicans have vowed to oppose the effort, and Sinema appeared ambivalent about it in remarks to her state’s newspaper, the Arizona Republic, on Wednesday.
According to a White House fact sheet, the bipartisan bill will propose $US550 billion ($NZ790 billion) in new spending, down from $US579 billion ($NZ831 billion) in a framework the negotiators sketched out several weeks ago.