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Bipartisan Senators Make $1T Infrastructure Deal Before Vote

After weeks of debate, a bipartisan group of senators has reached a deal on infrastructure worth about $1 trillion, with $550 billion in new spending. Now the group awaits the reactions of their many colleagues.

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(TNS) — Senate negotiators reached a deal Wednesday on a bipartisan infrastructure package and the chamber will vote on a motion to proceed on the measure in the evening.

The new package would include $550 billion in new spending, as opposed to the original $579 billion agreed upon by White House and Senate negotiators in June, and would be a one-time supplemental appropriation.

A source familiar with the revised framework said the lower top-line number resulted from decreasing a one-time infusion into transit from $48.5 billion to $39.2 billion. Negotiators also agreed to eliminate a $20 billion infrastructure bank included in the initial framework.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the GOP’s lead negotiator, described the legislation as a major infrastructure package that would be popular both inside and outside Washington. For weeks, 11 Republicans and 11 Democrats have been involved in the talks with White House officials.

“It’s going to help with regard to our roads and our bridges and our ports and our waterways,” Portman said. “It also helps expand the digital infrastructure of broadband.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the top Democratic negotiator, confirmed the agreement. “We’re moving to a motion to proceed tonight,” she said.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, President Joe Biden said the deal “signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things. As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”

Sinema also said the group plans to release some text Wednesday and then “as we get the last pieces done, we’ll release them as well.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor earlier Wednesday that members should be prepared for a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the legislative vehicle that will include text of the agreement. The Senate Cloakroom later announced the vote was scheduled for 5:30 p.m.

OFFSETS


A summary released by the White House said the spending would be “financed through a combination of redirecting unspent emergency relief funds, targeted corporate user fees, strengthening tax enforcement when it comes to crypto currencies, and other bipartisan measures, in addition to the revenue generated from higher economic growth as a result of the investments.”

A list of offsets circulating among lobbyists included $53 billion from some states returning unused enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, $20 billion from sales of future spectrum auctions, $56 billion in economic growth from a 33 percent return on investments and $2.9 billion from extending available interest rate smoothing options for defined benefit pension plans.

The offsets also included $49 billion stemming from a partial delay of a Trump-era rule limiting drug manufacturer rebates to pharmacy benefit managers, $8.7 billion from extending statutory sequester cuts to Medicare and $3 billion from requiring drugmakers to reimburse Medicare for certain wasted medications.

Another $205 billion would come from repurposing unused COVID-19 relief funds, although three lobbyist sources said that reportedly excludes money set aside for hospitals and medical providers.

MEDICAL PROVIDER FUNDS


Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., told reporters that people he spoke to — including White House staff — indicated the medical provider relief fund is off the table but stressed that wasn’t totally clear yet.

Wyden did not say whether he would vote on the motion to proceed because he was still focused on “gathering facts.”

“We woke up this morning in Oregon today with a headline of hospitalizations up 25 percent, so I’ve been very concerned about that,” he told reporters.

Left out from the latest list is a ban on spread pricing, in which pharmacy benefit managers pocket the difference between what they charge insurance companies and what they paid for a drug. The provision was initially floated as a potential offset last week.

The White House summary listed spending provisions included in the deal, headlined by its $110 billion for roads, bridges and major projects.

The deal includes $39 billion for modernizing transit infrastructure and addresses a backlog of rail cars, stations and tracks that need replacement while improving accessibility, according to the summary.

The White House touted the historic nature of that spending despite the fact that some Democrats had been pushing for even higher levels. The deal also has $66 billion to address Amtrak’s maintenance backlog, modernize its Northeast Corridor and expand rail service to other parts of the country.

SPENDING


The deal would devote $7.5 billion to building out a national network of electrical vehicle charging stations, a key agenda item for the Biden administration. It seeks to address climate change while creating domestic manufacturing jobs. The deal also would spend $2.5 billion each for zero-emission buses, low emission buses and ferries.

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.

It would spend $21 billion on cleaning up polluted areas, including money to reclaim abandoned mines and cap orphaned gas wells. And it would spend $73 billion on upgrading the nation’s power infrastructure, emphasizing renewable energy sources.

It would provide $55 billion for drinking and wastewater infrastructure, with money specifically to replace poisonous lead service lines, and would invest $65 billion in improving access to broadband Internet.

Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Wednesday that he plans to support taking up the bill but criticized it for not going far enough in addressing environmental justice and climate change.

“That’s why I will continue to fight for more to be done in our upcoming reconciliation bill and work to get assurances from the White House and Senate leadership to ensure that it includes the policy and the resources we need to take bold, transformative action to invest in climate change and environmental justice,” Carper said in a statement. “There is no time to waste on this existential threat.”

CAUCUS BRIEFINGS


Republicans and Democrat negotiators briefed their respective caucuses on the deal during separate lunch meetings. Members of both parties emerged largely optimistic, but sometimes still hesitant to commit to voting to move forward with the agreement.

“We’re still waiting to see the bill,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., holding a binder with details of the plan after the GOP lunch. “I mean, yesterday, if you’d asked me I would’ve said we don’t have our ducks in a row and we don’t know where the damn ducks are. Today, I think we’re much closer to a resolution.”

But he cautioned against Schumer forcing a vote too soon. “Everybody needs a chance to see the final language, finish the scoring and everyone needs a chance to read it.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., predicted 10 to 12 Republicans would vote to move forward.

“There are several who right now are saying things like, ‘I really want to be able to get to yes, I’m hoping to get to yes,’ and many people are sticking to their principle that they want to see the actual bill text.”

He said he planned to vote to move forward. “Frankly, if we lose the moment, then we have no chance to do it, then I would question whether we can ever do anything again,” he said.

©2021 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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