Advertisement
Share

Biden encourages senators bogged down on amendments to bipartisan infrastructure bill

Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman speaks to reporters
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is a top Republican negotiator for the bipartisan infrastructure plan.
(Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / Associated Press)

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

As Biden spoke from the White House, he compared the “historic investment” of nearly $1 trillion in new and existing spending to building the transcontinental railroad or the interstate highway system — lofty themes he has touched on before while nudging Congress along. The public works projects the measure will fund 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 Thursday as the Senate stalled out, unable to expedite the package’s completion as hoped. Senators will be back Saturday 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 expenditures will “enable us not only to build back but to build back better than before the economic crisis hit,” he said.

The Senate has released text of a bipartisan infrastructure bill. A vote could take place this week.

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 could pass as soon as this weekend, to be quickly followed by the more sweeping $3.5-trillion budget blueprint that Democrats plan to shoulder on their own.

Senators had hoped to wrap up the bipartisan bill late Thursday, before many of them left for Wyoming to attend Friday’s funeral services for former Republican Sen. Mike Enzi, 77, who died July 26 after being injured in a bicycle accident near Gillette, Wyo.

Advertisement

But the Senate ground to a halt with new problems as senators worked late into the night Thursday 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.” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said 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 the first part of Biden’s infrastructure agenda and would inject billions of new spending on roads, bridges, waterworks, broadband and other projects in 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 analysis did not take into account certain revenue streams — including from future economic growth.

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), an ally of former President Trump who served as his 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-San Francisco) encouraged the senators on but also reiterated that her chamber will consider the two bills together.

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

The Senate convened a rare Sunday session to finish drafting a bipartisan infrastructure bill that is a key element of President Biden’s agenda.

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

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

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and others wanted to narrow the definition of who must file those IRS forms, 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 R. Warner (D-Va.) and others.

White House spokesman 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 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 healthcare, education and other expenditures — Democratic priorities that Republicans have pledged to reject. Debate is expected to extend into the fall.

Schumer wants senators to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget blueprint for the bigger proposal before they depart for their scheduled August recess.

Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.


Advertisement