Biden’s infrastructure bill on cruise control to Senate passage

President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal cleared its final serious Senate hurdle Sunday night, putting the legislation on a glide path to passage as soon as late Monday.

In a 68-29 vote, the Senate closed down debate on a bill that spends $550 billion in new money on the nation’s physical infrastructure. Sunday’s vote came after senators spent the weekend haggling over amendments and time agreements to consider them.

Final passage of the legislation is expected late Monday night, or the wee hours of Tuesday at the latest, unless a deal is reached among all 100 senators to speed it up. A 50-hour budget debate and an unlimited “vote-a-rama” on nonbinding but politically symbolic topics will follow immediately after.

Prior to the vote Sunday evening, senators spent the weekend trying to negotiate amendments changing the infrastructure bill’s cryptocurrency regulations and allowing coronavirus aid money to be spent on infrastructure. But they did not reach an agreement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned earlier in the day that an amendment vote would “require the cooperation of our Republican colleagues.” Without that cooperation, he said, “we’ll proceed by the book and finish the bill.”

Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) said over the weekend that he would not allow the infrastructure bill to pass more quickly, dampening the Democratic majority’s enthusiasm for allowing the GOP to have more amendment votes. The Senate has considered more than 20 amendments to the bill thus far, but attempts to vote on two dozen more fell apart on Thursday night after Hagerty refused to expedite the bill as a condition of the deal.

Hagerty on Sunday afternoon attempted to bring up 17 amendments by unanimous consent, but Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) objected, citing his refusal to come to a time agreement and potential objections from other senators.

Other GOP senators also tried unsuccessfully on Sunday to bring up their own amendments.

“We have wasted all day Thursday, Saturday and now through Sunday,” said an exasperated Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) “That’s enough time to vote on a multitude of amendments, and we just sat around those three days, accomplishing nothing.”

The bill could theoretically be amended after Sunday’s vote. But that would require cooperation from all 100 senators, making the prospects unlikely.

Among the amendments senators were calling for prior to Sunday’s vote was one from Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would loosen restrictions on coronavirus aid money so that states and cities can spend it on infrastructure. And Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) was also pushing for a $50 billion defense infrastructure fund.

While Senate passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is imminent, the legislation still faces an uncertain future in the House. Democratic moderates are already pressuring Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take the legislation up immediately, though Pelosi and many progressives want to wait until a Democratic-only social spending bill also passes the Senate. That bill cannot be filibustered by Senate Republicans in the evenly split chamber.

Pelosi and Schumer have devised a two-track process to enact as much of Biden’s domestic agenda as possible, pledging that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will only advance if it is married to the party-line legislation that will spend as much as $3.5 trillion on climate change action, paid leave policies and health care expansion.

The Senate will immediately proceed to a budget setting up that massive bill on filibuster-proof ground after it completes its work on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Schumer is also considering forcing votes on more elections legislation after Democrats’ sweeping overhaul plan failed in June.

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