WASHINGTON (AP) — Edging toward a vote, senators convened Saturday for a second consecutive weekend session on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and passage of the $1 trillion package could wrap up quickly or drag on for days if opponents try to slow President Joe Biden’s big priority.
“We can get this done the easy way or the hard way,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said as the Senate opened. He said he would keep senators in session until they finished the bill and sent it to the House.
Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to be on Capitol Hill for afternoon meetings on the legislation, which Biden said offered a potentially “historic investment,” on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system.
The Senate appeared on track to approve the bill, despite days of fits and starts.
At noon, senators planned to see whether they could reach a crucial 60-vote hurdle that would determine whether the tenuous alliance between Republicans and Democrats could hold on the public works package. Ten Republicans would have to join all Democrats to advance the measure past a filibuster; more votes would then follow.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has so far allowed the bill to progress, and his vote will be one to watch. “This is a compromise,” he said Saturday, signaling potential support.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a first part of Biden’s infrastructure agenda. It would inject $550 billion of new spending over the next five years on roads, bridges, waterworks, broadband and other projects to virtually every corner of the nation.
For senators who have been slogging through debate — and months of give-and-take negotiations — it’s a chance not only to send federal dollars to their states, but also to show the country that Congress can work together in a bipartisan way to solve problems.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the needs in her state were obvious — including money for water systems in remote villages without running taps for handwashing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as one of the negotiators, she also wants to demonstrate that lawmakers can unite.
“I’m really worried that everybody believes that we’re as dysfunctional as we appear to be, and so to prove otherwise, it’s kind of important,” she said. “The Senate needs some demonstrated acts of bipartisanship.”
The weekend action comes as Congress is under pressure to make gains on the president’s infrastructure priorities — first with the bipartisan bill and then Democrats’ more sweeping $3.5 trillion budget blueprint they plan to shoulder on their own.
If senators wrap up work on the bipartisan bill, they immediately will turn to the much more partisan undertaking on Biden’s agenda, the outline for the $3.5 trillion proposal. That plan would provide billions in what the White House calls human infrastructure — child care support, home health care, education and other expenditures that are Democratic priorities that Republicans have pledged to reject. Debate on that will extend into the fall.
For some Republicans, that back-to-back voting schedule is what they are trying to delay, hoping to slow or halt what appears to be a forward march by Democrats to make gains on the president’s infrastructure goals.
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., an ally of Donald Trump’s who had been the former president’s ambassador to Japan, said he objected to expediting consideration of the bill.
“I could not, in good conscience, allow that to happen,” Hagerty said in a statement Friday. He said he was especially concerned that passing the bipartisan bill would pave the way for Democrats to move quickly to their $3.5 trillion “tax-and-spend spree.”
Former President Donald Trump weighed Saturday with a statement criticizing Biden, senators of both parties and the bill itself, though it’s not clear whether Trump’s views hold sway over the lawmakers.
Senators have found much to like in the bill, even though it does not fully satisfy liberals, who view it as too small, or conservatives, who find it too large. It would provide federal money for projects many states and cities could not afford on their own.
Senators had hoped to wrap up the 2,700-page bipartisan bill during the week . But the Senate ground to a halt with new problems late in the week as members wanted to consider more amendments and Republican opponents objected to an expedited the process.
An analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office drew concerns, particularly from Republicans. It concluded that the legislation would increase deficits by about $256 billion over the next decade.
But the bill’s backers argued that the budget office was unable to take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth. Additional analysis released Saturday by the budget office suggested infrastructure spending overall could boost productivity and lower the ultimate costs.
Paying for the package has been a pressure point throughout the monthslong slog of negotiations after Democrats objected to an increase in the gas tax paid at the pump and Republicans resisted a plan to bolster the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.
Unlike Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is funded by repurposing other money, including untapped COVID-19 aid, and other spending cuts and revenue streams.
Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments to the bipartisan package, with more possible on Saturday. So far, none has substantially changed the framework of the public works package.
The House is n recess and is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages when it returns in September.