U.S. Senate pushes ahead with $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill

by Reuters
Monday, 2 August 2021 17:35 GMT

(Adds statements by congressional leaders, American Society of Civil Engineers, JCT estimate)

By David Morgan and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON, Aug 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate will try to complete work this week on a $1 trillion infrastructure investment bill that would bring long-awaited improvements to roads, bridges and mass-transit systems and deliver a rare bipartisan victory to President Joe Biden.

Following long weekend sessions, Senate negotiators announced they had finished drafting a 2,702-page bill, which was introduced, clearing the way for senators to debate amendments.

"In the end, the bipartisan group of senators have produced a bill that will dedicate substantial resources to repair, maintain, and upgrade our nation's physical infrastructure," a buoyant Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor on Sunday.

Schumer said on Monday that there were already three bipartisan amendments to consider, with a possibility of more, although Democrats and Republicans had not yet reached a deal on that process.

"The longer it takes to finish the bill, the longer we'll be here," he warned on the Senate floor, one week before the expected August recess.

In his own statements on the Senate floor, Republican leader Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of improving infrastructure, but rejected "any artificial timetable that our Democratic colleagues may have penciled out for political purposes."

The legislation, if enacted, would be the largest U.S. infrastructure investment in decades. Its passage would mark a major win for Biden, a Democrat, and the deeply divided Congress. It would come on the heels of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus and coronavirus aid bill that was enacted earlier this year without Republican support.

The legislation would include $550 billion in new spending over five years for items such as roads, rail, electric vehicle charging stations and replacing lead water pipes on top of $450 billion in previously approved funds.

Its wide-ranging provisions include $343 billion for improvements on highways, bridges and related projects, $48.4 billion to make drinking water and water infrastructure safer, $7.5 billion to help construct electric vehicle charging stations - far below what Biden had sought - and $350 million over five years for reducing vehicle collisions with wildlife. The bill would provide grants for "wildlife crossing structures."

The Joint Committee on Taxation, the nonpartisan research arm of the U.S. Congress, projected the tax provisions of the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill would increase the country's revenue by $51 billion over the next 10 years.

While the $1 trillion bill represents a large investment, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that over the next two decades the United States needs to spend around $13 trillion to upgrade aging public works projects that they have graded at a "C-" level currently.

The group said in its 2021 assessment that there is a $5.6 trillion gap between infrastructure funding that is needed and what is being planned across the country.

The bipartisan $1 trillion bill also would clear the way for Democrats, acting without Republican support, to begin work on a budget framework that would sketch out plans for a $3.5 trillion "human infrastructure" bill.

That bill would shovel federal dollars toward fighting climate change, help millions of immigrants gain legal protections and fund an expansion of health care, including for senior citizens in need of assistance at home.

The Senate first needs to put the finishing touches on the infrastructure bill, which aims to upgrade the nation's aging roads, bridges and rail lines and expand high-speed internet access to rural areas where economies have been hobbled by old technology.

The legislation also would help build a national network of electric vehicle charging stations and replace lead water pipes, although at levels lower than Biden had originally sought.

In a rare sign of bipartisanship last week, the initiative won early support from enough Republicans to begin debate on the bill. Barring surprise developments, the bill could be ready for a final vote as early as this week, according to some senators.

Nevertheless, on Monday, three Republican senators - John Cornyn, Rick Scott and Martha Blackburn - criticized the infrastructure bill, saying they had inadequate time to consider it and taking issue with one of the ways it would be financed.

None of those three Republican senators had backed the bill in earlier procedural votes. (Reporting by David Morgan, Makini Brice and Richard Cowan; Editing by Paul Simao and Alistair Bell)

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