US Senate reaches $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending deal

After weeks of negotiations, it appears the Senate is ready to move forward to debate one of Joe Biden’s key priorities.

Senators Rob Portman, left, and Kyrsten Sinema, right, were key members of the bipartisan group that forged the infrastructure deal [File: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

Republicans in the United States Senate have reached a deal with Democrats over major outstanding issues in a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that plays a key part in President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Senator Rob Portman, the two lead negotiators in the congressional chamber, told reporters in the Capitol on Wednesday that the agreement had been reached.

“We do expect to move forward this evening. We’re excited to have a deal,” Sinema said. “We’ve got most of the text done, so we’ll be releasing it and then we’ll update it as we get those last pieces finalised.”

Details on transit and broadband were still being finalised but lawmakers said the legislative text would be completed soon. A test vote on the measure could potentially be held on Wednesday evening, they also said.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things,” Biden said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon, welcoming the news.

“This bipartisan deal is the most important investment in public transit in American history and the most important investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak 50 years ago,” he said, referring to the US passenger rail network.

Senators in a bipartisan group of 10 have been huddling privately for weeks and in recent days legislators and the White House have worked to salvage the bipartisan deal, a key part of Biden’s agenda.

Addressing a concern about funding among Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Portman said the package is “more than paid for”. Portman said McConnell “all along has been encouraging our efforts”.

The procedural vote would simply limit debate on whether the Senate should begin considering the bill, thought to be in the range of $1.2 trillion.

Democrats, who have slim control of the House of Representatives and Senate, face a timeline to act on what would be one of the most substantial pieces of legislation in years.

The deal’s prospects of full congressional passage remain unclear as there are also pockets of opposition from both parties.

Some conservative Republicans are reportedly concerned about the political benefits Biden and Democrats could reap from passing an infrastructure bill as they aim to build on their slim congressional majorities in next year’s midterm elections.

And some progressive Democrats feel that compromising with Republicans not only limits progressive spending priorities but would not guarantee Republicans’ cooperation in future spending bills.

At a private meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday, Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the Senate’s bipartisan measure complete “crap”, according to two Democrats who attended the session and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The outcome will set the stage for the next debate about Biden’s much more ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit of far-reaching programmes and services including child care, tax breaks and healthcare that touch almost every corner of American life, and that Republicans strongly oppose.

What’s in the deal?

The bill will propose $550bn in new spending on highways, bridges, transit, broadband, water systems and other public works projects, a Republican source told the Reuters news agency, down from $579bn in a framework the negotiators sketched out several weeks ago.

The agreement includes $110bn for roads, $65bn to expand broadband access and $47bn for environmental resiliency, the lawmakers said.

Still unclear is how the bipartisan package would be paid for after Democrats rejected a plan to bring in funds by increasing the petrol tax that drivers pay at the pump and Republicans dashed a plan to boost the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.

Funding could come from repurposing COVID-19 relief aid, reversing a Trump-era pharmaceutical rebate and other streams. It is possible the final deal could run into political trouble if it does not pass muster as fully paid for when the Congressional Budget Office assesses the details.

Meanwhile, Democrats are readying a broader $3.5 trillion package that is being considered under budget rules that allow passage with 51 senators in the split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. It would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate and the tax rate on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year.

A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC found eight in 10 Americans favour some increased infrastructure spending.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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