Infrastructure Inches Along After Clearing Senate Hurdle
(Bloomberg) -- A $550 billion infrastructure bill that’s key to President Joe Biden’s agenda cleared a procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate but objections from at least one Republican could push final passage into next week.
While the timeline remains fluid, the 67-27 vote to end debate on the bipartisan compromise measure puts the legislation on track to pass after weeks of negotiations between the White House and Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
The Senate adjourned Saturday evening after a day of fits and starts and will reconvene Sunday. But it is unclear whether debate will stretch into next week.
Timing for the bill’s passage depends on senators reaching agreement on final changes to consider, including a possible vote on new cryptocurrency rules, as well as running down the clock. At least one GOP senator, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, said he’ll object to any effort to speed up debate, which could push a final vote into next week.
“I’m not inclined to expedite this process whatsoever,” said Hagerty, who opposes the bill because it would add the federal deficit.
Judd Deere, a spokesman for Hagerty, said the senator would not object to votes on amendments but would block efforts to move to an early final vote.
Leaving the floor where various senators were huddling late Saturday, Texas Republican John Cornyn said the Senate was at an impasse on a final package of proposed changes. Talks will continue in the evening and on Sunday.
Earlier Saturday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pleaded with Republicans to lift objections to moving forward with the final batch of amendments.
“We can get this done the easy way or the hard way,” the New York Democrat said. “Either way the Senate will stay in session until we finish our work. It’s up to our Republican colleagues how long it takes.”
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell moments later called the bill imperfect but said investment in roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure was necessary and long overdue. He also stressed there are “many outstanding amendments” that should receive votes.
“This is a compromise product crafted by colleagues with big, principled differences in the Senate with the narrowest possible split,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Montana Senator Jon Tester, one of the negotiators on the bill, said leaders continued to discuss which amendments the Senate will tee up for debate.
Vice President Kamala Harris was on hand in the Capitol on Saturday for final discussions on the bill, which would be the biggest investment in the nation’s infrastructure in decades and is a key element of the Biden administration’s economic agenda.
Biden on Friday urged the Senate to complete its work on the legislation.
“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,” he said at the White House.
Schumer plans to pivot quickly after the infrastructure vote to a budget resolution that will set the stage for a much broader $3.5 trillion package of social spending and taxes that Democrats can muscle through without any Republican votes.
The Senate will have to confront one unresolved fight before passing the infrastructure bill: two dueling amendments to modify a provision of the bill dealing with reporting requirements for cryptocurrency transactions and tax collection. The bipartisan group that drew up the legislation was counting on the extra tax revenue generated to help pay for some of the bill’s costs.
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, a progressive Democrat, teamed up with conservative Republicans Pat Toomey and Cynthia Lummis in working with the cryptocurrency industry to draft changes to narrow who would be affected by the reporting requirements. It would exclude entities such as miners, software designers and protocol developers from the groups that need to report data to the Internal Revenue Service.
But Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, and Democrats Mark Warner and Kyrsten Sinema -- three key players in negotiating the infrastructure legislation -- proposed an 11th-hour alternative endorsed by the White House. It would target some software companies and cryptocurrency miners.
On Saturday, the sponsors of the competing amendments huddled to discuss a compromise.
Toomey said the talks weren’t immediately fruitful.
“I don’t know how it’s going to work out. We’re working on it,” the Pennsylvania Republican said.
The dispute risks causing a rift between the Biden administration and Wyden, who will be the most important figure in making sure the president’s tax agenda can clear the Senate later this year.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said the administration is “grateful” for Wyden’s leadership on crypto issues, but reiterated that it prefers the alternative plan.
“I would just go back to the overarching objective here which is reducing tax evasion in the cryptocurrency market, and we feel that the compromise sponsored by Senators Warner, Portman, and Sinema is a good option,” she said.
The Blockchain Association, a trade group for the industry, mounted a last-minute pressure campaign in favor of the Wyden-Toomey-Lummis version. Wyden said they were making the case to colleagues that their version makes it “very hard for tax cheats, without discouraging innovation.”
The crypto amendments could both be considered on Saturday. Warner said it’s likely there will be a side-by-side vote on the crypto amendments, each one subject to a 51-vote threshold.
The infrastructure bill includes $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, $73 billion for electric grid upgrades, $66 billion for rail and Amtrak, and $65 billion for broadband expansion. It also provides $55 billion for clean drinking water and $39 billion for transit.
The legislation still faces challenges in the House, where Democrats can afford only three defectors if Republicans vote in unison against the bill. House Democrats are divided over whether the package spends enough and many Republicans oppose the bill.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed Friday that the House won’t take up the infrastructure legislation until the Senate also passes the more sweeping budget package. That linkage has been a central demand of progressive Democrats in the House, though moderates have been urged on Pelosi not to hold on to the infrastructure bill. The House is currently on a recess until Sept. 20.
“We are not going forward with leaving people behind,” Pelosi said at a news conference.
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