U.S. Senate to vote on infrastructure after bipartisan breakthrough

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate will vote on Wednesday on whether to move forward on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal after negotiators reached agreement on the major components of the package that is a key priority of President Joe Biden, lawmakers said.

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The bipartisan agreement, which follows months of talks between Senate Democrats and Republicans, is expected to gain strong support from lawmakers from both parties.

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Senator Rob Portman, the two lead Senate negotiators, announced the agreement separately to reporters. Later, the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, told reporters on Capitol Hill he would call a procedural vote on Wednesday to move forward on the measure and he believed it would pass.

Republicans blocked a similar move last week, saying details were not nailed down. In the latest bill, details on transit and broadband were still being finalized but lawmakers said legislative text would be completed soon.

“We’re excited to have a deal,” Sinema said. “We’ve got most of the text done, so we’ll be releasing it and then we’ll update it as we get those last pieces finalized.”

The agreement includes $110 billion for roads,$73 billion for power grid spending, $66 billion for railways, $65 billion to expand broadband access, $55 billion for clean drinking water, $50 billion for environmental resiliency, $39 billion for public transit, and $25 billion in airports, the White House said.

Addressing a concern over funding among Republican lawmakers including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Portman said the package is “more than paid for” and added: “We look forward to moving ahead and having a healthy debate.”

The procedural vote would simply limit debate on whether the Senate should begin considering a bipartisan infrastructure investment bill.

BIDEN’S AGENDA

The bipartisan bill is a key component of Biden’s larger domestic policy agenda. Democratic leaders plan to address the remainder with a sweeping $3.5 trillion budget “reconciliation” package. Republicans have vowed to oppose that effort, and Sinema appeared lukewarm about it in remarks to a newspaper in her state on Wednesday. That prompted criticism from a prominent progressive House Democrat.

Sinema told the Arizona Republic she supports starting the process for the larger deal but does not back spending $3.5 trillion, which is expected to include funding for social measures and fighting climate change. Her hesitancy could create problems for party leaders who need every Democratic vote for it in the evenly divided Senate.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive House Democrat, blasted Sinema for opposing the larger bill and implied that could hurt the bipartisan infrastructure bill’s chances in the House, where Democrats have a thin majority and progressives are passionate about the larger bill.

“Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin – especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a ‘bipartisan accomplishment,’” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

The bipartisan bill will propose $550 billion in new spending, a White House fact sheet said, down from $579 billion in a framework the negotiators sketched out several weeks ago.

It scraps previous plans to spend $20 billion to create an infrastructure financing authority, sources in both parties said. It had been intended to attract investment through private-public partnerships, but Republicans opposed Democratic demands designed to lift worker wages by attaching requirements that contractors pay prevailing wages, typically higher levels secured by unions.

Four other Republican negotiators joined Portman, including Senator Lisa Murkowski, who said the agreement showed Republicans and Democrats in the sharply divided U.S. Congress “can come together over really hard stuff to negotiate in good faith to broker an agreement.”

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