A momentous day: U.S. Senate gives final approval to bipartisan infrastructure bill

Bipartisan legislation to invest serious money in tackling America’s persistent infrastructure deficit won final approval in the United States Senate today, with more than a dozen Republicans crossing the aisle to deliver a lopsided margin of victory for President Joe Biden’s top legislative priority.

By a vote of sixty-nine to thirty, the Senate passed its version of H.R. 3684, officially titled the INVEST in America Act, shortly before noon Eastern Time. “INVEST” is short for Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation, and was given final passage in the House on July 1st.

“I want to thank the group of senators – Democrats and Republicans – for doing what they told me they would do,” said a delighted President Joe Biden in remarks at the White House. “The death of this legislation was mildly premature, as reported. They said they were willing to work in a bipartisan manner, and I want to thank them for keeping their word. That’s just what they did.”

“After years and years and years of ‘Infrastructure Week,’ ” Biden continued (getting in a dig at his predecessor’s many failures) “we’re on the cusp of an infrastructure decade that I truly believe will transform America.”

“This is about us doing the real, hard work of governing,” the President said later. “This is about democracy delivering for the people. This is about winning the future. It’s about doing our job. This is about building an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, giving everyone a decent chance at a decent life.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was ebullient.

“Today, the Senate takes a decades-overdue step to revitalize America’s infrastructure and give our workers, our businesses, our economy the tools to succeed in the twenty-first century,” the New York Democrat said in floor remarks hailing the long-awaited vote. “The bill will make large and significant differences in both productivity and job creation in America for decades to come.”

“To my colleagues, particularly the group of ten, then eleven, then twenty-two, who worked so hard in a bipartisan way: congratulations!”

The final bill includes many provisions that originated in legislation introduced by the Pacific Northwest’s U.S. Senators, like Patty Murray’s Clean School Bus Act and Digital Equity Act and Maria Cantwell’s federal culvert replacement program.

Murray and Cantwell both chair key Senate committees: Murray runs HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) and Cantwell runs Commerce, putting them both in a position to positively influence the text of the legislation.

“This bill represents a historic generational investment in our infrastructure—it will be the single largest investment in bridge repair since we built the interstate highway system, and the largest investment in public transit and clean energy transmission in history,” said Murray in a statement.

“Washington State families will see the direct benefits of these investments: our kids will breathe clean air to and from school, rural communities will finally have access to reliable high-speed internet, and we are going to put folks from every part of the state to work with good-paying jobs by building out our infrastructure— repairing our bridges, building electric vehicle charging stations, replacing lead pipes, and everything in between,” the Senator added.

“Importantly, I’ll keep working with the administration to ensure the jobs we create are union jobs with strong protections for workers.”

“This is an important investment in our physical infrastructure — and next we’ll get right to work on securing a truly historic investment in American families and workers by passing the budget resolution,” Murray pledged.

“We’re going to make child care affordable for working families, enact universal pre?k, pass the first ever comprehensive national paid leave program, tackle the climate crisis, move forward on immigration reform, boost the supply of affordable housing, and so much more,” Murray said, describing some of the priorities that the Senate Democratic caucus hopes to achieve through reconciliation.

“The infrastructure bill makes serious investments in some of our salmon recovery challenges,” said Senator Cantwell in a statement. “For the first time, the bill creates a new culvert removal and habitat restoration grant program that prioritizes salmon and will open up spawning habitat. The bill also provides robust funding for EPA regional efforts to clean up Puget Sound as well as a significant down payment in the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.”

“For far too long, the phrase ‘infrastructure week’ was nothing but a cruel joke for communities throughout Oregon and the American West needing significant investments to deal with catastrophic wildfires, severe drought, hard-hit rural economies and more during the pandemic and well before that historic crisis,” U.S. Senator and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden said.

“I’m gratified the Senate acted with resolve today to deliver help to families and job-creating small businesses. I’ll keep working in a similar vein in the upcoming reconciliation package to deliver on equally-important priorities to ensure climate action, build a strong and fair economy with better jobs, expand affordable health care and make it easier to support a family.”

The final bill approved by the Senate jettisoned some objectionable plans originally in the bipartisan infrastructure framework that would have opened the door to the privatization of public assets like the Bonneville Power system here in the Pacific Northwest. Consequently, the final bill is legislation that NPI can support, though it is imperative that we also fund climate action investments and supports for families in tandem through the reconciliation process.

The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was as follows:

Voting Aye for Infrastructure: Democratic Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell (WA), Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (OR), Jon Tester (MT); Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (AK), Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (ID)

Voting Nay Against: Republican Senator Steve Daines (MT)

In addition to Daines — the only senator from the region to vote nay — twenty-nine other Republicans opposed the legislation. Here’s the full list of nos:

Barrasso (R?WY)
Blackburn (R?TN)
Boozman (R?AR)
Braun (R?IN)
Cornyn (R?TX)
Cotton (R?AR)
Cruz (R?TX)
Daines (R?MT)
Ernst (R?IA)
Hagerty (R?TN)

Hawley (R?MO)
Hyde-Smith (R?MS)
Inhofe (R?OK)
Johnson (R?WI)
Kennedy (R?LA)
Lankford (R?OK)
Lee (R?UT)
Lummis (R?WY)
Marshall (R?KS)
Moran (R?KS)

Paul (R?KY)
Rubio (R?FL)
Sasse (R?NE)
Scott (R?FL)
Scott (R?SC)
Shelby (R?AL)
Thune (R?SD)
Toomey (R?PA)
Tuberville (R?AL)
Young (R?IN)

Among the senators you see above are a couple who are up in 2022 and could be vulnerable: Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Marco Rubio of Florida.

The bipartisan infrastructure framework’s seal of approval in the Senate is definitely a big deal, and it’s understandable why Biden is celebrating.

But even though this is a watershed moment for the Biden-Harris administration, the bill still has to go back to the House of Representatives before it can get to the President. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said repeatedly this infrastructure package needs to be accompanied by the megabudget bill that invests in the priorities Republicans wouldn’t agree to, or else they won’t bring it up.

That’s why, almost right after passing H.R. 3864, the Senate moved straight on to consideration of the budget resolution, which was developed under the leadership of Bernie Sanders (I?Vermont). That’s right (or should we say left!) — Bernie Sanders! He didn’t win the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, but he’s eagerly taken on a newly important role in the Senate following the 2020 election.

“To my colleagues who are concerned that this [the infrastructure bill] does not do enough on climate, for families, and making corporations and the rich pay their fair share: We are moving on to a second track, which will make a generational transformation in these areas,” Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in remarks.

Thirty-one recorded votes have already been taken on the megabudget resolution thus far, with the Senate working into the night — a burst of Senate activity that is known in Capitol Hill parlance as vote-a-rama.

Meanwhile, on the House side, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that the House will return from late summer recess on August 23rd to consider the legislation passed by the Senate. The House had previously not been scheduled to reconvene until late September. Sensibly, leadership is cutting the recess short so that the House will be in a position to act instead of wasting precious time.