A Big — but Partial — Win for Biden

A Big — but Partial — Win for Biden

Printer-friendly version
Plus, yet another Senate vote-a-rama
Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Tuesday was a landmark day — and not because Lionel Messi headed to Paris or Mountain Dew said it would be rolling out spiked versions. And no, we’re not talking about Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ topping a billion views on YouTube, either. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he would resign, and on the fiscal front, the Senate finally passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill — and immediately turned to an even bigger spending plan. Here’s what you need to know.

Senate Passes $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Delivering a Bipartisan Win for Biden

Following months of negotiations between lawmakers and the White House, the Senate passed a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package Tuesday, handing President Joe Biden a major but still tentative win on his ambitious economic agenda. The vote on the bill was 69-30, with all Democrats and 19 Republicans supporting the legislation.

The bill now moves to the House, where its fate is subject both to the competing demands of a fractious Democratic caucus and to the uncertain progress of the $3.5 trillion budget bill now under debate in the Senate. In a process that could take months to play out, Democrats plan to pass both bills at the same time, with the goal of increasing federal spending by roughly $4 trillion over a decade on a wide variety of public investments, ranging from roads and bridges to education and health care.

What’s in the infrastructure package: As a reminder, the bill includes $550 billion in new spending over five years.

The largest outlay in the bill is $110 billion for building and repairing roads and bridges. Railroads would receive $66 billion for upgrades and maintenance, though, to the disappointment of some, there is no money for high-speed rail. The power grid would get $65 billion to enhance "reliability and resiliency," while another $65 billion would go toward expanding broadband service and access. The water delivery system would get $55 billion, public transportation $39 billion, and airports $25 billion. (For more details, see The Washington Post, The New York Times or Reuters.)

The new spending is partially offset by repurposing unspent coronavirus funds and more stringent enforcement of taxes on cryptocurrency investment profits, among other financing mechanisms. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the bill would add $256 billion to deficits over 10 years.

The GOP yes votes: The 19 Republicans voting for the bill were Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, James Risch of Idaho, Mitt Romney of Utah, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

What people are saying: Here’s a roundup of reactions to the passage of the bill.

* Infrastructure week finally arrives: "A once-in-a-generation vote on U.S. infrastructure means it might finally be time to stop talking about infrastructure – or think more creatively about what the word means," says Gina Chon of Reuters Breakingviews. "The arrival at last of a much-touted infrastructure week is a good time to start rethinking America’s too-rigid distinction between economic hardware and software. Even before the pandemic, the labor market was tight, and the U.S. population was aging. Birth rates in 2020 were the lowest since 1979. If infrastructure is a priority, anything that gets more output out of Americans deserves the label."

* A win for bipartisan cooperation: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), a lead negotiator for Democrats, celebrated the cooperation across the aisle that helped produce the bill: "Rarely does federal legislation directly address issues that matter to all our constituents. How many times have we heard in recent months that bipartisanship isn’t possible anymore?"

President Biden also celebrated the spirit of bipartisanship, in addition to the long-term economic benefits. "This bill’s going to help make a historic recovery a long-term boom," he said at the White House. "Folks, above all, this historic investment in infrastructure is what I believe you, the American people, want — what you’ve been asking for a long, long time. This bill shows that we can work together."

* A historic level of funding: "The legislation would be the largest infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, touching nearly every facet of the American economy and fortifying the nation’s response to the warming of the planet," says The New York Times’ Emily Cochrane. "It would provide historic levels of funding for the modernization of the nation’s power grid and projects to better manage climate risks, as well as pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the repair and replacement of aging public works projects."

* Reversing a trend: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the bill would help reverse a long-running failure to invest in the country: "With this morning’s vote, the Senate has not only begun the largest modernization of American infrastructure since Eisenhower built the Interstate System; it has also taken an important step towards correcting a decades-long pattern of underinvestment.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce agreed: "Our elected leaders are on the precipice of a historic investment in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure," the group said in a statement. "Turning this long-overdue promise into a reality will grow our economy and strengthen our competitiveness for decades to come. We applaud the Senate for doing its job on a bipartisan basis, thoughtfully debating and passing much-needed infrastructure legislation that will finally invest in America’s roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure, create millions of jobs, and improve the quality of life for every American."

* Impact will be felt quickly: Saying the infrastructure plan would be a "big step forward" for the country, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo promised a rapid turnaround if and when the bill is signed into law: "We have many shovel-ready projects. We know that we have to start laying fiber to connect everybody to broadband. So Americans will feel it within a matter of months certainly."

* Though projects could take years: The spending in the bills could take years to have full effect, say The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein and Michael Laris. "Substantial pots of funding are likely to be quickly disbursed, particularly for updating existing projects, such as repaving the nation’s roads" they write. "But major public works projects often have to go through a lengthy process — from federal agency to locality to private builder — and may not result in new usable infrastructure for years."

* The bill was watered down: The American Prospect’s David Dayen notes that the final bill falls far short of the vision laid out by President Biden when he was running for office: "The result shows the power, in a 50-50 Senate, of a small group of centrists sticking together to force through their priorities. Dozens of amendment votes changed very little about the overall package ... And yet ultimately, it’s one of those pieces of legislation that can simultaneously be called the biggest boost to infrastructure in U.S. history and a modest effort at the same time. A one-time boost of investment in physical infrastructure is welcome and should be cherished. But many of the ambitions President Biden had in his initial infrastructure proposal cannot be realized through this effort."

Senate Kicks Off Vote-a-Rama as It Prepares to Pass Dems' $3.5 Billion Budget Blueprint

After passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Senate on Tuesday immediately turned to consideration of Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, which would unlock the fast-track process Biden and party leaders want to use to pass the rest of their economic agenda without Republican support.

The Democratic package is expected to include funding for health care, child care, education and social programs that collectively would represent the largest expansion of the social safety net in decades. Democrats are looking to finance those programs by increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.

The Senate process for the budget resolution requires a "vote-a-rama," or a marathon series of votes on a potentially unlimited number of amendments.

This is the Senate’s third such marathon this year, after the Senate voted on 41 amendments during a February vote-a-rama and 37 amendments during a March session, according to The New York Times.

This time, Republicans have slammed the Democratic budget plan as a "tax and spending extravaganza" and they’ll be looking to make the process painful for Democrats by again forcing dozens of messaging votes on politically sensitive amendments. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Tuesday that the GOP has hundreds of amendments prepared. "We're going to argue it out right here on the floor at some length. Every single senator will be going on record over and over and over," he said.

The bottom line: "Only one vote really matters," writes The Times's Cochrane. "If all 50 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents give final approval to the blueprint, Senate committees can begin work this fall on the most significant expansion of the safety net since the 1960s, knowing that legislation cannot be filibustered under the Senate’s complicated budget rules."

Number of the Day: 3.4 Million

In July, roughly 3.4 million unemployed people in the U.S. had been jobless for more than six months, CNBC’s Greg Iacurci writes Tuesday. That means that about 40% of the country’s unemployed workers have been out of work for more than half a year. While the number has been falling, it is still 2.3 million higher than it was in February 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic began to take its toll.

Views and Analysis