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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Senate nears vote on $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure package

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., updates reporters on the infrastructure negotiations between Republicans and Democrats at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on July 28.  (J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – The Senate inched closer on Thursday to voting on a landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill that would authorize some $550 billion in new spending on roads, airports, the electric grid, internet access, clean water and more – a major priority for President Joe Biden and the moderate Republicans and Democrats who negotiated the package.

If the legislation becomes law, it would send at least $7.3 billion to Washington and $2.5 billion to Idaho over five years for roads, bridges, public transportation, electric vehicle charging stations and broadband internet connections, according to White House figures. Both states would also be eligible for billions more in federal grant programs for passenger and freight rail, road safety, ports and waterways, cleaning up pollution and fighting wildfires.

Late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., filed a motion to end debate on the bill, setting up a final vote as early as Saturday. Several senators will travel to Wyoming on Friday to attend the funeral of former Sen. Mike Enzi, who died July 26 after suffering injuries in a bike accident. The Senate was scheduled to begin its summer recess at the end of this week, but the infrastructure vote will delay that annual break.

Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, called the bill “a historic generational investment in our infrastructure,” pointing out that it would be the largest investment in bridge repair since the nation’s interstate highway system was built and the biggest federal investment in public transit and clean energy.

“Washington state families will see the direct benefits of these investments,” Murray said in a statement. “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.”

With a total price tag of about $1 trillion – the other roughly $450 billion uses previously approved funds – the legislation represents a substantial investment in the nation’s infrastructure that members of both parties agreed is long overdue.

While the five Democrats and five Republicans who crafted the massive bill claimed it would pay for itself, on Thursday the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected it would add $256 billion to the federal deficit over a decade.

The bill’s proponents were mostly unfazed by the deficit projection, arguing the infrastructure investment will enable economic growth that will ultimately outweigh its cost. Most of the spending will be paid for by repurposing unspent COVID-19 relief funds, closing tax loopholes for cryptocurrency trading, and through various fees.

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee who worked on legislation that was incorporated into the package, emphasized the importance of investing in transportation to underpin the region’s economy.

“For the Eastern Washington economy to grow more jobs, it is essential to get needed infrastructure investments in our rail, highways, airports, and at-grade crossings,” Cantwell said in a statement. “This bill will do that.”

While the Republicans who crafted the bill have insisted it would be fully paid for without raising taxes, some GOP senators expressed skepticism.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, was one of 17 Republicans who voted along with the entire Senate Democratic Caucus to begin debate on the bill, but in a statement before the Congressional Budget Office released its “score,” he stopped short of backing the bill.

“Given the significant need for traditional infrastructure funding in Idaho, I supported the procedural vote to move forward with consideration of the bipartisan agreement,” Crapo said.

“This was not a final vote of passage, and I am working to ensure the final package is crafted in a fiscally responsible manner that meets Idaho’s infrastructure needs, including wildfire funding, road and bridge repair, water infrastructure and rural broadband. Also, investment in hard infrastructure involves counterinflationary, supply-side spending that helps increase jobs and make the U.S. more competitive globally.”

While the White House has enthusiastically supported the bipartisan bill, the $550 billion in new spending falls far short of the $1 trillion in new spending Biden set as a minimum in early June.

Progressive Democrats have been mostly lukewarm on the bill, but Democrats are gearing up to pass a separate package worth as much as $3.5 trillion through a budget process called reconciliation that would let them bypass the 60-vote threshold needed to pass most legislation in the Senate.

In her statement, Murray explicitly tied the two pieces of legislation together, highlighting aspects of the massive bill Democrats refer to as “human infrastructure.”

“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. 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.”

Senate Democrats plan to take up the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package as soon as senators vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, setting in motion a legislative process that is certain to keep senators at the Capitol well into next week.