Win for Biden as Senate passes infrastructure bill

FAIRFAX, US: Cars drive past construction workers along Interstate Highway 66 in Fairfax, Virginia, yesterday. – AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden hailed the Senate passage Tuesday of a “historic” $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, celebrating a major bipartisan win on a plan he vowed would “transform America.” By funding work on roads, bridges and ports, as well as clean water and high-speed internet, Biden said the bill-which still needs House approval-would create thousands of high-paying jobs for people without college degrees.

“This historic investment infrastructure is what I believe you, the American people, want,” Biden said in a White House address. “This bill shows that we can work together,” he said. Some seven weeks after the Democratic leader stood with senators from both parties hailing a preliminary agreement, the bill received rare bipartisan support in Washington’s highly-polarized political atmosphere. Needing just a simple majority, it passed by 69 votes to 30 with backing from a third of Republican Senators.

The measure now faces a make-or-break vote in the House of Representatives in coming weeks, where its future is less certain as divisions have sprung up in the Democratic majority. Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer credited Biden for winning approval of “the first major infrastructure package in over a decade on a bipartisan basis” after just seven months in office.

“It’s been a long and winding road, but we have persisted,” Schumer said. The ambitious plan provides for $550 billion in new federal spending on transport infrastructure, but also for public transit, broadband internet, and clean water, as well as electric charging stations and other measures to fight climate change. The total price tag-the equivalent of Spain’s 2020 gross domestic product-relies on other public funds that have already been appropriated.

Sweeping domestic agenda
In a deeply divided Washington, the bill’s final approval would mark a resounding victory for Biden, a former senator who touts his ability to reach across the aisle. In a sign of the continued influence wielded by former president Donald Trump, three Republican senators who participated in the negotiations announced they would not support the plan after Trump threatened reprisals for helping to hand Biden a political win.

But top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell voted for it, aware of the program’s huge popularity among voters tired of historic neglect of the nation’s highways. Passage looks less certain in the House of Representatives, where rifts have emerged within the narrow Democratic majority between the progressive and moderate wings. Negotiations are likely to be drawn out, and a final vote in Congress may not come until the fall. US business groups applauded the Senate vote saying it provides long-overdue investments and creates jobs.

US Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark called it a “historic investment in our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.” “Turning this long-overdue promise into a reality will grow our economy and strengthen our competitiveness for decades to come,” Clark said in a statement. According to a recent Business Roundtable study, each dollar of infrastructure investment over 20 years would yield nearly $4 in US economic growth, increase the average household’s disposable income by $1,800 every year, create 1.2 million new jobs and boost wage growth.

The next step
The infrastructure package is a primary element of Biden’s sweeping domestic agenda aimed at transforming the United States with more than $4 trillion in federal spending. Hours after the infrastructure vote, Senate Democrats early Wednesday approved a $3.5 trillion budget framework that includes major investments in health, education, tackling climate change and expanding social welfare programs. The measure passed 50-49 along party lines after a marathon “vote-a-rama” session of amendment votes.

“Senate Democrats just passed our budget resolution to provide historic investments in American jobs, American families, and the fight against climate change,” Schumer tweeted after the vote. Democratic leaders intend to push the package through over the coming months using a fast-track process known as reconciliation that allows budget-related legislation to pass by simple majority. With Republicans united against the broader budget bill, every Senate Democrat would need to support the package. – AFP

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