© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vehicles are parked outside the U.S. Capitol building the morning the Senate returned to session in Washington, DC, U.S., July 31, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
By David Morgan and Makini Brice WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate voted to advance a $1 trillion infrastructure package on Saturday, a procedural but important step forward after months of negotiations between President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators. In a 67-27 vote demonstrating broad bipartisan support, senators agreed to limit debate on the legislation, which represents the biggest investment in decades in America’s physical infrastructure including roads, bridges, airports and waterways. But the timing for passage remained unclear, as lawmakers prepared for possible votes on amendments and worked behind closed doors to reach an agreement that would allow the Senate to complete its work on the legislation quickly. “We can get this done the easy way or the hard way. In either case, the Senate will stay in session until we finish our work,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a floor speech before the vote. “It’s up to my Republican colleagues how long it takes.” Passage would be a major victory for Schumer, Biden and a bipartisan group of senators who spent months crafting the package, and would send the bill on to the House of Representatives. The chamber’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, signaled his support for the bill. “Republicans and Democrats have radically different visions these days, but both those visions include physical infrastructure that works for all of our citizens,” McConnell said in a speech before the vote. “The investments this bill will make are not just necessary, in many cases, they are overdue. Our country has real needs in this area.” After hours of closed-door negotiations, senators were unable to reach agreement on Thursday on a final batch of amendments before many lawmakers left town to attend the funeral on Friday of former Senator Mike Enzi in Wyoming. Twenty-two amendments have already been debated. Unless all 100 senators now consent to waive rules governing the legislative process, the Senate will have to pursue a series of procedural votes that could delay a vote on passage until as late as Monday or Tuesday. Progress has been held up by a flurry of disagreements over demands for new Defense Department improvements and a bill provision on cryptocurrency. Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, who was former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to Japan before replacing former Senator Lamar Alexander, also balked after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Thursday that the legislation would increase federal budget deficits by $256 billion over 10 years. The CBO analysis https://www.reuters.com/article/biden-infrastructure-costs/factbox-cbo-estimate-leaves-u-s-budget-shortfall-for-infrastructure-bill-backers-idUSL1N2PC30J did not include $57 billion in added revenue that senators estimate Washington would collect over the long term from the economic growth benefits of infrastructure projects. It also did not count $53 billion in unused federal supplemental unemployment funds to be returned from states. So far, the current bill has attracted backing from enough Republicans to comfortably surpass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, along with unanimous support from the chamber’s 50 Democrats. But the legislation is still opposed by most of the Senate’s 50 Republicans and by Trump, who has regularly blasted moderate Republicans and McConnell over their support.
Trump made infrastructure spending a key plank of his 2016 presidential campaign but never made it a priority once he got into office and was unable to get legislation through Congress. Some top Republicans believe Saturday’s vote on whether to limit debate could be a turning point.