United States senators were back at work on Sunday and labouring towards eventual passage of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, with the Democratic leadership promising to stay as long as it takes to overcome Republican holdouts who want to drag out the final votes.
Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer stressed to colleagues that they could proceed the “easy way or the hard way”, while a few GOP senators appeared determined to run out the clock for days.
“We’ll keep proceeding until we get this bill done,” Schumer said.
The measure would provide what US President Joe Biden has called an “historic investment” in public works programmes – roads, bridges, broadband internet access, drinking water and more.
In a rare stroke of bipartisanship, Republicans joined Democrats on Saturday to advance the measure. If approved, the bill would go to the House.
“We’re on the cusp of seeing that move through the Senate,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, citing “a remarkable coalition” that includes business, labour and lawmakers from both parties. “I think we’re about to get this done.”
Despite that overwhelming support, momentum ground to a standstill when a handful of Republican senators refused to yield hours of required debate time before the next procedural votes. That opposition was delaying what supporters had hoped would be swift passage, and set up late night and early morning sessions in a dayslong slog. Final passage would be pushed to Tuesday.
Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, a negotiator on the bill, said about 17 to 18 Republicans have indicated they support the bill, which would ensure eventual passage. “It could go quicker, but it’s going,” Cassidy said. “And that’s the good thing, it’s going.”
Senators were meeting for the second consecutive weekend to work on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the first of Biden’s two infrastructure packages.
Once voting wraps up, senators immediately will turn to the budget outline for a $3.5 trillion package of child care, elder care and other programmes that is a much more partisan undertaking and expected to draw only Democratic support.
Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, an ally of Donald Trump and the former president’s ambassador to Japan, was among those leading the effort to take as much time as needed to debate and amend the bipartisan bill.
“There’s absolutely no reason to rush,” Hagerty said during a floor speech on Saturday.
Trump issued a statement criticising Biden, senators of both parties and the bill itself, though it was not clear whether the former president’s views hold sway over the lawmakers.
Biden, who was spending the weekend in Delaware, said the bipartisan package offers an investment on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system.
Overcoming the 60-vote hurdle was a sign that the tenuous alliance between Republicans and Democrats could hold on the public works package. In all, 18 Republicans joined Democrats on the 67-27 vote to push the measure past a filibuster.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has so far allowed the bill to progress, despite the broadsides and name-calling coming from the former president. His vote Saturday – another “yes” – was closely watched. “This is a compromise,” McConnell said.
Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments to the 2,700-page package, but so far none has substantially changed its framework.
More amendments could be debated on Sunday with senators considering revisions to a section on cryptocurrency, a long-shot effort by defence hawks to add $50bn for defence-related infrastructure and a bipartisan amendment to repurpose a portion of the untapped COVID-19 relief aid that had been sent to the states.
Another key procedural vote was set for late on Sunday.
Paying for the package has been a pressure point throughout the months of negotiations after Democrats objected to an increase in the gas tax paid at the pump and Republicans resisted a plan to bolster the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.
Unlike Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is funded by repurposing other money, including untapped COVID-19 aid, and other spending cuts and revenue streams.
The House is in recess and is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages when it returns in September.