US infrastructure deal faces first vote in the Senate

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The US Capitol

First test of $1tn infrastructure spend comes amid partisan uncertainty.

The US Senate is pressing ahead with a procedural vote this week on President Biden’s infrastructure package. The move is led by Senate Democrats although the bill being proposed has support from some Republican senators too.

The compromise proposal would see around $1trillion allocated to an upgrade of American infrastructure after a group of five Republicans and five Democrats agreed a compromise deal with the president. That compromise will see only half as much money allocated through the bill as was originally proposed by the White House. Removed sections of spending are now being addressed in separate legislation.

The bill in its present form is targeted at traditional infrastructure investments such as roads, bridges, water systems and an expansion of broadband internet. But despite bipartisan and public support, there is still concern that the Senate will fail to pass it.

To pass the vote this week, 60 senators will have to vote for it. That means getting ten Republicans to vote in favour of legislation under a Democrat president – something that is highly unusual in American politics now.

Additionally, a small number of Republicans are considering preventing the measure reaching a vote at all by using the filibuster to run down time past procedural deadlines – a method that may be deployed at a later date too.

Chuck Schumer, the Democrat Senate majority leader, said: “If the Senate republicans vote ‘no’ tomorrow, they will be denying the Senate an opportunity to consider the bipartisan infrastructure framework.”
However, some Republican senators supportive of the bill would like the vote delayed until next week to give time to finalise details and win over party colleagues.

Republican Mitt Romney, who was part of the original bipartisan group that negotiated the present package, explained: “Wednesday is premature, but I think Monday would be sufficient time for us to get all the remaining issues solved, and socialise the legislation with our colleagues so they know how they want to vote.”

However, White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, stressed that the vote this week was just a procedural action, not a vote on the bill in its entirety. “This is a vote on a motion to proceed to a vehicle, not a vote on the final bill. There’s nothing abnormal about holding a vote on a vehicle to allow consideration at this point. We fully support that and we believe there should be support for it tomorrow.”

Even if the procedural vote fails, it is likely that the supportive Republicans would continue to negotiate to get it passed later on. What may prove more contentious is the ongoing debate about an associated but separate package of $3.5bn to be invested in school building, university facility upgrades and other ‘social’ infrastructure that the Republicans are more strongly opposed to.