U.S. senators make final tweaks to infrastructure bill, expect passage this week

Vehicles are parked outside the U.S. Capitol building the morning the Senate returned to session in Washington, DC, U.S., July 31, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

The U.S. Senate on Sunday worked to finalize legislation to forge ahead with a sweeping $1 trillion spending plan for roads, rail lines, high-speed internet and other infrastructure, with some senators predicting final passage later this week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the text was “being finalized imminently,” and the Senate could soon start voting on all relevant amendments, finishing the bill “in a matter of days.”

The massive infrastructure package is one of President Joe Biden’s top legislative priorities and would be the largest investment in U.S. roads, bridges, ports, and transit in decades.

It includes $550 billion in new spending on top of $450 billion in previously approved funds and would provide money to replace lead water pipes and build a network of electric vehicle charging stations.

Senator Jon Tester, a key Democratic negotiator on the legislation, told reporters that one potential holdup is a provision over wages. Democrats want to include a decades-old law that would require contractors to pay prevailing wages – typically higher levels set by unions – on projects funded by the legislation.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, told CNN that she believes at least 10 Republicans will support the measure, enabling it to clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle.

“My hope is that we’ll finish the bill by the end of the week,” Collins said, adding that the measure is “good for America.”

Final text – including detailed provisions to pay for it – will determine whether a sizeable bipartisan majority in the closely divided Senate can hold up. Senators so far have supported a shell version of the legislation in procedural votes, including a 66-28 margin on Friday that included 16 Republicans.

White House economic adviser Brian Deese talked up the bill before its final provisions were revealed as “badly needed investments in our economy” that could help ease supply bottlenecks that were contributing to inflation.

“It will make it easier to get goods and services flowing. It’ll actually lower prices over the long term,” Deese said on “Fox News Sunday.”

BIGGER SPENDING TRAIN

But Democrats have paired the “hard” infrastructure bill with a much-larger $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” budget bill that would boost spending on education, child care, climate change and other priorities of the party.

Schumer said in Senate floor remarks that immediately after passage of the infrastructure bill, he will proceed with a budget resolution that would allow “reconciliation” rules to be used for those investments – enabling Democrats to pass them with only a simple majority without Republican support.

Democrats want to offset the social spending with tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans earning more than $400,000 a year – measures that Republicans oppose.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat whose support is pivotal to the party’s spending plans, said that while the infrastructure bill should win strong support, he could not guarantee passage of the reconciliation bill.

He said both plans need to be fully paid for to avoid a dangerous build-up of debt.

“Let’s see if the pay-fors are for real,” he said, adding that while he could support some tax increases, he was concerned about making the U.S. economy uncompetitive.

Some Democratic progressives, particularly in the House of Representatives, have also suggested the $1 trillion package is inadequate, and the Senate could impose changes that potentially complicate its chances of becoming law.

The Democrats’ majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives are razor-thin, requiring the party to stick together if it wants to achieve its legislative goals.

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