WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Senate approved Joe Biden’s historic US$1.2 trillion (S$1.6 trillion) infrastructure plan on Tuesday (Aug 10), paving the way for a major victory to the president if it wins final passage in the lower chamber of Congress.
Some seven weeks after the Democratic leader stood with senators from both parties hailing a preliminary agreement to fix the nation’s roads, bridges, ports and internet connections, the deal arrived on the Senate floor needing just a simple majority to pass.
In the event, the package received rare bipartisan support among Washington’s highly-polarized political elite, passing by 69 votes to 30 after winning the backing of a third of Republicans.
The measure now faces a make-or-break vote in the House of Representatives in the coming weeks, where its future is less certain as divisions have sprung up in the Democratic majority.
Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer credited Biden for winning approval of “the first major infrastructure package in over a decade on a bipartisan basis” after just seven months in office.
“It’s been a long and winding road, but we have persisted,” Schumer said. “The American people will now see the most robust injection of funds into infrastructure in decades.”
The ambitious plan provides for US$550 billion in new federal spending on transport infrastructure, but also for high-speed Internet and efforts to fight climate change.
The total price tag of the package – the equivalent of Spain’s 2020 gross domestic product – relies on other public funds that already have been appropriated.
Passage looks less certain in the House of Representatives, however, where rifts have emerged within the narrow Democratic majority between the progressive and moderate wings.
Negotiations are likely to be drawn out, and a final vote in Congress may not come until the fall.
In a deeply divided Washington, the Bill’s approval would mark a resounding victory for Biden, a former senator who touts his ability to reach across the aisle.
Sweeping domestic agenda
The package is a primary element of Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda aimed at transforming the United States with more than US$4 trillion in federal spending.
Democrats now are working on the next stage: a go-it-alone, US$3.5 trillion budget framework that includes major investments in health, education, tackling climate change and expanding social welfare programmes.
The budget resolution “will be the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since (president Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and the New Deal of the 1930s,” independent Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Budget Committee, said this week.
Democratic leaders intend to use a fast-track process known as reconciliation that allows budget-related legislation to pass by simple majority.
With Republicans united against the broader budget Bill, every Senate Democrat would need to support the package.
Biden has urged Congress to deliver on his priorities, saying in July that “we can’t afford not to make these investments.”
Making a last-minute plea for passage of the bipartisan Bill over the weekend, the president tweeted that it represented a “historic, once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”
Former Republican president Donald Trump however called it a “disgrace,” noting the victory it would hand Biden, and threatened political reprisals against Republicans who voted for it.
In the wake of that threat, three Republican senators who participated in the infrastructure negotiations announced they would not vote to support for the plan – one of whom was absent from the session.
But top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell voted for it, aware of the programme’s huge popularity among voters tired of historic neglect of the nation’s highways.