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The Guardian - US

Biden hails Senate passage of giant $1tn bipartisan infrastructure bill

Joe Biden with Kamala Harris at the White House on Tuesday. Biden said: ‘We can still come together to do big things, important things, for the American people.’
Joe Biden with Kamala Harris at the White House on Tuesday. Biden said: ‘We can still come together to do big things, important things, for the American people.’ Photograph: Oliver Contreras/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

The US Senate passed a giant new bipartisan infrastructure bill on Tuesday, with 19 Republicans joining the entire Democratic caucus in helping to get the bill over the finish line.

It was a key affirmation of Joe Biden’s strategy to push bipartisanship in his legislative agenda, and the White House on Tuesday afternoon trumpeted that it would create “millions of jobs”, as well as support greener policies such as expanding networks of charging stations for electric cars, and boosting train travel and electric buses.

The $1tn bill – which still must navigate passage through the House of Representatives before reaching the president’s desk – would invest new federal funds in upgrading roads and bridges but also encourage greener policies.

“Today, we proved that democracy can still work,” Biden declared at the White House, noting that the 69-30 vote included even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

“We can still come together to do big things, important things, for the American people,” Biden said.

The lead Republican negotiator, Rob Portman, said the work “demonstrates to the American people that we can get our act together on a bipartisan basis to get something done”. Democratic senator Mark Warner of Virginia called the agreement “a little balm to the psychic soul of the country”.

The bill focuses on updating the nation’s power grid to make it more resilient against extreme weather in the era of the climate crisis, invest in protecting public utility systems from cyber-attacks and helping to protect the nation’s coastlines from rising seas.

It could face some opposition in the House from progressive legislators, who have said they would withhold their support until the Senate passes a separate, $3.5tn package more focused on social welfare policies, like childcare and elder care.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, also previously said that she won’t take up a vote on the bill in the House until the Senate works on the follow-up social spending package.

On Tuesday, though, she applauded the bill’s passage through the upper chamber, when other pieces of legislation, such as the voting rights bill, have stalled and died there in recent months.

Pelosi said: “Today is a day of progress … a once-in-a-century opportunity.”

The bill has received support from big business and labour unions.

Democrats said they expect the bill, which tops off at 2,700 pages, to touch nearly every corner of American life.

“There’s been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America,” said the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer.

Donald Trump worked to torpedo the bill’s success, previously threatening to withhold support from any Republican lawmaker who voted for it.

“Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill will be used against the Republican party in the upcoming elections in 2022 and 2024. It will be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal,” the former president said in a statement on Saturday.

But the Republicans who held steady in support of the bill included McConnell, though some conservatives complained about its high cost.

“This infrastructure bill is not the perfect bill,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican from Alaska and one of the bill’s negotiators, but added: “It’s better to get some of what our constituents want rather than none of it.”

The bill also aims to help replace lead drinking pipes, modernize and expand transit, upgrade passenger and freight rail and improve broadband internet. About $65bn is to be provided for broadband, a provision the Republican senator Susan Collins negotiated because she said the pandemic showed that such a service “is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity.”

What comes next in the Senate is expected to be more contentious – Biden’s bigger $3.5tn package, a more liberal undertaking of childcare, elder care and other programs that is expected to draw only Democratic support. That debate is expected to extend into the fall.