The Senate voted to begin debate on a b-ipartisan infrastr-ucture package that has yet to be turned into legis-lative text, and that many senators have yet to see.
Yet plenty of Democrats, Republicans and outside groups have been pressing for decades for such a deal, believe the big votes this week will pave the way for the long-sought-after package to win Senate approval, and eventually get to the White House for President Biden’s signature.
“I’m very, very optimistic about it,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), who is part of the bipartisan group of 22 senators negotiating the package, told reporters Friday.
Plenty of stakeholders saw this week’s votes to take up the package in a bipartisan 67-32 vote and to formally begin debate in a 66-28 vote as clear signals that the support is there for the measure, despite high-stakes drama throughout the negotiations.
Seventeen GOP senators voted to take up the bill Wednesday, while 16 voted to begin debate Friday. The package needed at least 10 GOP votes.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Thursday that he doesn’t think any senators who voted to move forward with the bill will ultimately vote against final passage.
“I don’t see that falling off,” he said. “I think people know what’s in this bill. They know, by category, these are record investments. They know it’s going to create thousands of jobs.”
The leaders of the bipartisan group, Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), both predicted in a press conference after Wednesday’s vote that support for the bipartisan deal will grow in the Senate.
“We think we can build on that, as members begin to realize the impact of these projects on their states, on the people they represent,” Portman said.
The deal includes $550 billion in new spending in areas such as roads, bridges, public transit, water infrastructure and broadband. The cost of the new spending would be offset through means including repurposing unspent coronavirus relief funds, strengthening tax enforcement related to cryptocurrency and extending certain fees.
Negotiators faced challenges to get to the point where Senate procedural votes would pass. Prior to last week’s votes, Republicans had voted against starting to advance an infrastructure package while a deal was still being worked out. Former President Trump has repeatedly lobbied Republicans to oppose the measure.
And even after the recent procedural votes, more hurdles lay ahead for supporters of the infrastructure deal. Legislative text has yet to be released, and some lawmakers may want to propose amendments.
Still, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said that the infrastructure bill should pass the Senate as long as it’s in line with the deal that the bipartisan group reached with the White House.
“If what we vote upon is that upon which we agreed, we’re going to pass it,” he told reporters Friday. Groups representing businesses and state and local governments are also hopeful.
“Sixty-seven senators at least had enough faith in the process to let it proceed,” said Mark Ritacco, director of government affairs at the National Association of Counties, referencing Wednesday’s procedural vote.
Business groups said that while they see the procedural votes as boding well for passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, they are not going to ease up on their efforts.
“We’re not considering anything a done deal,” said Robyn Boerstling, the National Association of Manufacturers’ vice president for infrastructure policy.
Ed Mortimer, vice president for transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said he hopes that the eventual bill gets even more votes in the Senate than the procedural votes did.
“We are taking nothing for granted, and we’re continuing to work with every senator to guarantee growing support through this process to get to the final passage vote,” he said.
If the infrastructure deal passes the Senate, it might face an even bigger challenge in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said that she does not want the House to vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes a Democratic-only social spending package.
Manchin said that he doesn’t decide what the House does, but expressed confidence about Senate passage of the bipartisan bill. He also noted that Senate Democrats plan to take up a budget resolution that will pave the way for a social spending bill after the chamber passes the bipartisan package.
“What the House does, I have no control over that,” he said. “We’re going to pass a piece of legislation that the American people want and need.”