Senate Votes on Infrastructure Bill

July 29, 2021

Hours after Senate negotiators reached a deal on a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package, the chamber voted on a motion to proceed to the measure. The 67-32 vote, which included 17 Republicans and all 50 Democrats, would provide $550 billion in new federal money for roads, bridges, rail lines, transit projects, water systems and other physical infrastructure programs, and would be a one-time supplemental appropriation.

The compromise includes $110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $66 billion for passenger and freight rail; $39 billion for public transit; $65 billion for broadband; $17 billion for ports and waterways; and $46 billion to help states and cities prepare for droughts, wildfires, flooding and other consequences of climate change. Many of the provisions were unchanged from an outline the negotiators agreed upon last month. It has appeared to pare spending in a few areas, though, including reducing money for public transit to $39 billion from $49 billion and eliminating a $20 billion “infrastructure bank” meant to catalyze private investment in large projects.

More specifically:

  • Rail: The deal calls for “the largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak,” the White House said, with $66 billion for rail, including $24 billion for modernization of the Northeast Corridor, $12 billion for intercity rail service such as high-speed rail, $5 billion for rail improvement and safety grants and $3 billion for grade crossing safety improvements.
  • Roads: The plan provides $110 billion in new funding for roads, bridges and major projects and includes a five-year surface transportation reauthorization. Of that total, $40 billion would go to bridge repair and replacement — the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system. Another $17.5 billion would go to major projects that don’t fit neatly into any one program.
  • Safety: The plan also dedicates $11 billion to transportation safety programs, including a new Safe Streets for All program to reduce crashes and reduce cyclist and pedestrian fatalities.
  • Transit: The $39 billion in new transit funding represents an 83 percent increase over current transit spending levels. But it is about $10 billion less than what was in the original bipartisan proposal, and it is unclear whether it would maintain the traditional 80/20 split in funding between highways and transit. The House voted for $109 billion for transit in its bill.
  • Electric vehicles: The agreement also includes a $7.5 billion investment in a national network of EV chargers, half of President Joe Biden’s original proposal, and $2.5 billion each for zero-emission buses, low-emission buses and ferries.
  • Reconnecting communities: The “reconnecting communities” program to tear down or cap highways that divided communities has been reduced from $25 billion in Biden’s American Jobs Plan to $1 billion.
  • Ports and airports: The plan includes $17 billion for port infrastructure and $25 billion for airports.
  • Pollution: It would spend $21 billion on cleaning up polluted areas, including money to reclaim abandoned mines and cap orphaned gas wells.
  • Power: The plan spends $73 billion on upgrading the nation’s power infrastructure, emphasizing renewable energy sources.
  • Water: It would provide $55 billion for drinking and wastewater infrastructure, with money specifically to replace poisonous lead service lines. It would spend more than $50 billion on improving the resiliency of U.S. infrastructure to protect against droughts, floods and other natural disasters, as well as cyberattacks.
  • Broadband: The agreement would invest $65 billion in improving access to broadband internet.

The new agreement significantly changes how the infrastructure spending will be paid for, after Republicans balked at a pillar of the original framework: increased revenue from expanding and strengthening IRS enforcement, which was set to supply nearly one-fifth of the funding for the plan.

According to a Senate summary, the plan will be paid for primarily with $205 billion in repurposed, unused COVID-19 relief funds. Other major revenue sources include $49 billion from delaying the Medicare Part D rebate rule, $8.7 billion from extending statutory sequester cuts to Medicare and $3 billion from requiring drug makers to reimburse Medicare for certain wasted medications.

Additional offsets include $53 billion from returned enhanced federal unemployment insurance supplements from certain states, $20 billion from sales of future spectrum auctions and more. Negotiators are also classifying $56 billion in projected economic growth from a 33 percent return on investment and $2.9 billion from extending available interest rate smoothing options for defined benefit pension plans.

The deal still faces several obstacles before enactment, including being turned into formal legislative text and clearing final votes in the closely divided Senate and House. House leadership has said they will not take up the bipartisan bill without Democrats’ planned $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which Senate leaders say will also be completed in the coming weeks. If enacted, the measure would be the largest infusion of federal money into the public works system in more than a decade.

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