Biden nudges Senate over ‘historic’ $1T infrastructure bill

Published 12:39 am Saturday, August 7, 2021

By Lisa Mascaro
AP Congressional Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Despite a rocky week of fits and starts, President Joe Biden on Friday praised the Senate for edging the bipartisan infrastructure plan closer to passage, ahead of a key vote on the $1 trillion package.

As Biden spoke from the White House, he compared the “historic investment” to building the transcontinental railroad or the interstate highway system — lofty themes he has touched on before as he nudges Congress along. The public works projects being unleashed will be powered by good-paying, blue-collar jobs, he said.

The president’s note of encouragement offers a reset for lawmakers after frustrations mounted and tempers flared overnight as the Senate stalled out, unable to expedite the package to completion. Senators will be back for another weekend session.

“It’s a bill that would end years of gridlock in Washington and create millions of good-paying jobs, put America on a new path to win the race for the economy in the 21st century,” Biden said.

The public works expenditure will “enable us not only to build back but to build back better than before the economic crisis hit,” he said.

It’s nearing decision time for Congress, and particularly the Senate, to make gains on the president’s infrastructure priorities — first with the bipartisan bill that’s on track for passage as soon as this weekend, and quickly followed by Democrats’ more sweeping $3.5 trillion budget blueprint they plan to shoulder on their own.

Senators had hoped to wrap up the bipartisan bill late Thursday, before many of them departed to attend funeral services Friday in Wyoming for a colleague, the former Republican Sen. Mike Enzi.

But the Senate ground to a halt with new problems as senators worked late into the night on amendments and to counter objections from Republican opponents of the plan to expedite the process. A procedural vote was set for Saturday.

“We’ve worked long, hard and collaboratively to finish this important bipartisan bill.” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., just before midnight. In announcing Saturday’s schedule, he said, “We very much want to finish.”

Called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the thick bill is a first part of Biden’s infrastructure agenda and would inject billions of new spending on roads, bridges, waterworks, broadband and other projects to virtually every corner of the nation. If approved by the Senate, it would next go to the House.

The late-night session stalled out as new debates emerged over proposed amendments to change the 2,700-page package. Senators have processed nearly two dozen amendments so far, and none has substantially changed the framework of the public works package. With more than a dozen amendments still to go, senators struggled to reach agreements.

A much anticipated analysis of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office also drew concerns, particularly from Republicans. It concluded that the legislation would increase deficits by about $256 billion over the next decade, though the bill’s backers argued that the budget office was unable to take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth.

Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., an ally of Donald Trump’s and the former president’s ambassador to Japan, said he objected to expediting consideration of the bill because of the high price tag.

“I could not, in good conscience, allow that to happen,” Hagerty said in a statement early 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.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., encouraged the senators on but also reiterated that her chamber will consider the infrastructure bills “together.”

“Whatever you can achieve in a bipartisan way, bravo,” she said at a Capitol press conference. “We’re going to do this when we can do it all.“

One of the amendments generating the most attention Thursday involved cryptocurrency.

The bill would raise an estimated $28 billion over 10 years by updating IRS reporting requirements for cryptocurrency brokers, just as stockbrokers report their customers’ sales to the IRS.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and others who wanted to narrow the definition of who must file those IRS forms are concerned that crypto miners, software developers and others would be subject to the new reporting requirement.

Toomey warned that the provision, as written, could have a “chilling effect on the development of this technology, and that’s what I am most concerned about.”

The White House weighed in late, suggesting it favored a different approach from Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and other senators.

White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said the compromise amendment “would reduce tax evasion in the cryptocurrency market.”

Overall, the infrastructure bill calls for $550 billion in new spending over five years above projected federal levels for a nearly $1 trillion package, in what could be one of the more substantial investments in the nation’s roads, bridges, waterworks, broadband and the electric grid in years.

If senators wrap up work on the bipartisan bill, they will turn to the much more partisan undertaking on Biden’s agenda: a $3.5 trillion proposal for 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 will extend into the fall.

Schumer wants the Senate to pass both the bipartisan package and a budget blueprint for the bigger proposal before senators depart for an August recess.