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Senate Takes Up Infrastructure Bill    07/29 06:12

   The Senate has voted to begin work on a nearly $1 trillion national 
infrastructure plan, acting with sudden speed after weeks of fits and starts 
once the White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed on major 
provisions of the package that's key to President Joe Biden's agenda.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate has voted to begin work on a nearly $1 
trillion national infrastructure plan, acting with sudden speed after weeks of 
fits and starts once the White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed 
on major provisions of the package that's key to President Joe Biden's agenda.

   Biden welcomed the accord as one that would show America can "do big 
things." It includes the most significant long-term investments in nearly a 
century, he said, on par with building the transcontinental railroad or the 
Interstate highway system.

   "This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function," Biden said 
ahead of the vote Wednesday night. "We will once again transform America and 
propel us into the future."

   After weeks of stop-and-go negotiations, the rare bipartisan showing on a 
67-32 vote to start formal Senate consideration showed the high interest among 
senators in the infrastructure package. But it's unclear if enough Republicans 
will eventually join Democrats to support final passage.

   Senate rules require 60 votes in the evenly split 50-50 chamber to proceed 
for consideration and ultimately pass this bill, meaning support from both 
parties.

   The outcome will set the stage for the next debate over Biden's much more 
ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit of 
far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health 
care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans strongly 
oppose that bill, which would require a simple majority, and may try to stop 
both.

   Lead GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced the bipartisan 
group's agreement on the $1 trillion package earlier Wednesday at the Capitol, 
flanked by four other Republican senators who had been in talks with Democrats 
and the White House.

   After voting, Portman said the outcome showed that bipartisanship in 
Washington can work and he believed GOP support would only grow. "That's pretty 
darn good for a start," he said.

   That group had labored with the White House to salvage the deal, a first 
part of Biden's big infrastructure agenda. Swelling to more than 700 pages, the 
bill includes $550 billion in new spending for public works projects.

   In all, 17 Republican senators joined the Democrats in voting to launch the 
debate, but most remained skeptical. The GOP senators were given a thick binder 
of briefing materials during a private lunch, but they asked many questions and 
wanted more details.

   According to a 57-page GOP summary obtained by The Associated Press, the 
five-year spending package would be paid for by tapping $205 billion in unspent 
COVID-19 relief aid and $53 billion in unemployment insurance aid some states 
have halted. It also relies on economic growth to bring in $56 billion, and 
other measures.

   Giving Wednesday night's vote a boost, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell 
announced late in the day he would vote to proceed, though whether he will 
support the final bill remains uncertain. The Republican negotiators met with 
McConnell earlier Wednesday and Portman said the leader "all along has been 
encouraging our efforts."

   Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a lead Democratic negotiator who talks often 
with Republicans also spoke with Biden on Wednesday and said the she hoped the 
results showed "our government can work."

   Democrats, who have slim control of the House and Senate, face a timeline to 
act on what would be some of the most substantial pieces of legislation in 
years.

   Filling in the details has become a month-long exercise ever since a 
bipartisan group of senators struck an agreement with Biden in June over the 
broad framework.

   The new spending in the package dropped from about $600 billion to $550 
billion, senators said, as money was eliminated for a public-private 
infrastructure bank and was reduced in other categories, including transit.

   The package still includes $110 billion for highways, $65 billion for 
broadband and $73 billion to modernize the nation's electric grid, according a 
White House fact sheet.

   Additionally, there's $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for waterworks 
and more than $50 billion to bolster infrastructure against cyberattacks and 
climate change. There's also $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging 
stations.

   Paying for the package has been a slog throughout the talks after Democrats 
rejected a plan to bring in funds by hiking the gas tax drivers pay at the pump 
and Republicans dashed an effort to boost the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.

   Along with repurposing the COVID-19 relief and unemployment aid, other 
revenue would come from the sale of broadcast spectrum, reinstating fees that 
chemical companies used to pay for cleaning up the nation's worst hazardous 
waste sites and drawing $49 billion from reversing a Trump-era pharmaceutical 
rebate, among other sources.

   The final deal could run into political trouble if it doesn't pass muster as 
fully paid for when the Congressional Budget Office assesses the details. But 
Portman said the package will be "more than paid for."

   House Democrats have their own transportation bill, which includes much more 
spending to address rail transit, electric vehicles and other strategies to 
counter climate change.

   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not commit to supporting the package until 
she sees the details, but said Wednesday she's "rooting for it."

   Pelosi said, "I very much want it to pass."

   A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC found 8 in 10 Americans favor 
some increased infrastructure spending.

   Senators in the bipartisan group have been huddling privately for months. 
The group includes 10 core negotiators, split evenly between Democrats and 
Republicans, but has swelled at times to 22.

   Transit funding has remained a stubborn dispute, as most Republican senators 
come from rural states where highways dominate and public transit is scarce, 
while Democrats view transit as a priority for cities and a key to easing 
congesting and fighting climate change.

   Expanding access to broadband. which has become ever more vital for 
households during the coronavirus pandemic, sparked a new debate. Republicans 
pushed back against imposing regulations on internet service providers in a 
program that helps low-income people pay for service.

   Meanwhile, Democrats are readying the broader $3.5 trillion package that is 
being considered under budget rules that allow passage with 51 senators in the 
split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. It would 
be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate and the tax rate on Americans 
earning more than $400,000 a year.

 
 
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