Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal

The Senate on Wednesday agreed to take up a bipartisan infrastructure package, hours after senators and the White House announced they had reached a deal after weeks of closed-door haggling.

Senators voted 67-32 to greenlight the debate, with 17 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to launch a floor effort that could conclude with a Senate victory for a bipartisan package that has been championed by President Biden.

GOP Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Kevin Cramer (N.D.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), John Hoeven (N.D.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Jim Risch (Idaho), Mitt Romney (Utah), Thom Tillis (N.C.) Todd Young (Ind.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voted to advance the bill. 

Big hurdles remain for the bill to reach a final vote, and negotiators are still finalizing text — the Senate is currently using a shell bill that will eventually include agreed upon language. 

Still, Wednesday represented a win for Biden and the negotiators.

“We now have an agreement on the major issues. We are prepared to move forward,” Portman, who led the talks for Republicans, told reporters. “We look forward to moving ahead. And having the opportunity to have a healthy debate here.” 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who led the talks for the Democrats, added to reporters: “We’re very excited to have a deal. I want to just say everyone has been incredible in doing this work for many months.” 

Wednesday’s vote comes roughly a month after Biden and the 10 senators at the core of the bipartisan negotiating group announced outside the White House that they had reached a deal on a framework for roughly $1.2 trillion over eight years. 

But the group struggled to nail down the details, including how to pay for the agreement after Republicans took ramped up IRS enforcement, which was expected to be a significant source of revenue, off the table. 

Some changes were made between when the framework was announced and Wednesday, when details of their agreement started to be unveiled. Though the total cost of the group’s proposal is $1.2 trillion over eight years, $579 billion of that was expected to be new spending. On Wednesday, senators revealed that number dropped to $550 billion including cutting an “infrastructure bank” that was meant to help spur private investment in large projects. 

The deal includes funding for roads, bridges, public transit, electric buses, clean drinking water and broadband.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things. As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future,” Biden said in a statement. 

Negotiators raced to brief their colleagues on their agreement ahead of Wednesday's vote, as they tried to lock in the 60 votes needed to get over the initial hurdle. 

Republicans, who blocked debate last week, were given binders during a closed-door lunch with a roughly 30-page summary of the deal, according to one senator’s estimate. Some argued that Democrats were trying to rush the process. 

“Until this bill is actually written and we have a chance to review it, including all the details, the costs, the pay-fors, and the impact it will have on our states, I will not support it. And I imagine the majority of my Republican colleagues feel the same way,” said Sen. John Cornyn (Texas). 

But Republicans throughout Wednesday said they would back the initial vote, including Graham, Burr, Cramer and Tillis.

Shortly before the vote, in a boon to GOP negotiators, Capito, who had not been part of the bipartisan talks, and McConnell announced that they would vote to start debate. 

Senators still face a days-long slog to finish up debate on the legislation. 

Republicans, who quizzed negotiators during a closed-door lunch on the deal, are warning that they want the ability to offer amendments and are warning Democrats against trying to quickly end debate. 

"We'll advocate for an open amendment process," said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican.

"My assumption is at some point, if we get on it, that McConnell and Schumer will have to negotiate a deal that enables at least a good number of amendments to be offered," he said, speaking of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

He added that some GOP senators were "going to be really dug in against it" and predicted that the Senate would have to use a "good amount of time" on the agreement before a final vote. 

The bipartisan bill is one part of a two-part strategy Democrats are pursuing to pass Biden’s infrastructure package. 

Schumer has vowed the Senate will vote before leaving for a weeks-long break on both the bipartisan deal and a budget resolution that will allow Democrats to pass a second, substantially larger bill without Republican support. 

The two tracks are tied together: Moderates have warned that without a bipartisan deal there might not be the second larger package. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has warned that she will not take up the Senate’s bipartisan bill until it passes the second package. 

Because Schumer will need all 50 of his members to pass both the budget resolution and the subsequent spending package, all Democrats will have leverage to elbow for their priorities in the bill, which is already expected to include top agenda items such as expanding Medicare, combating climate change and immigration reform. 

There are plenty of headaches awaiting Democrats in what is expected to be a months-long process. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has said he will vote to start debate on the budget resolution, but he hasn’t said if he can support the end product. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has described himself as open but hasn’t committed to anything. 

And on Wednesday, Sinema warned that she was willing to vote to start the process but was going to push for changes including to the $3.5 trillion price tag for the Democrats' bill. 

"I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process," she said, "I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion."

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