Senate Democrats now are urging President Joe Biden to use his executive privilege to cancel up to $50,000 worth of student loan debt. (Doug Mills-Pool | Getty Images)
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of U.S. senators say they have worked through the sticking points on a major infrastructure package, paving the way for a vote to begin debate on that proposal as soon as Wednesday evening.
That announcement came a week after Republicans blocked a test vote on the deal, with GOP senators opposed to beginning debate before that proposal was fully drafted. Backers would need 60 votes in the evenly split Senate to begin debate on the new version of the agreement.
A White House fact sheet on the sweeping $1.2 trillion deal said it contains $550 billion in new spending, including:
- $110 billion for roads, bridges and other major projects;
- $66 billion for rail improvements;
- $65 billion for broadband grants;
- $55 billion for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure;
- $46 billion to boost resiliency against floods, drought, and other extreme weather;
- $39 billion to modernize public transit systems; and
- $15 billion to build a national network of electric vehicle chargers, and pay for fleets of electric buses
The legislation would be paid for by repurposing money from the COVID-19 stimulus bills, including unemployment compensation dollars that states have not used. It also relies on money from corporate user fees and tougher tax enforcement on cryptocurrencies.
President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the 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 the written statement.
The infrastructure deal’s announcement was swiftly lauded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which urged speedy approval of a measure it said would “provide enormous benefits for the American people and the economy.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican who was involved in the infrastructure negotiations, also praised the proposal during a speech on the Senate floor, commending in particular the money intended to help mitigate flooding and other coastal issues in states like his.
“Some people have confused this bill with the $3.5 trillion Democrat tax-and-spend extravaganza,” Cassidy said, referring to a second bill that Biden also has sought to provide more money for child care, education, and a range of progressive policy goals.
“They are two different bills. This bill is for roads and bridges and broadband and resiliency, flood control, and coastal restoration. The other is for who knows what.”
The linkage of those two proposals caused a brief speed bump last month for negotiators from the White House and U.S. Senate.
The group, led by Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, and Ohio’s Rob Portman, a Republican, had announced a deal on the general outline of an infrastructure proposal to spend $1.2 trillion over eight years.
But it was briefly jostled by Biden’s comments that he would only sign the bill paying for traditional infrastructure projects if Congress also sends him a second bill he’s sought to provide more money for what he calls “human infrastructure,” such as child care and education.
Biden later revised his comments, reasserting his support for the infrastructure deal.
The key senators involved in the infrastructure talks besides Sinema, Portman, and Cassidy have included Republican Susan Collins of Maine; and Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Jon Tester of Montana; and Mark Warner of Virginia.
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