WASHINGTON – After weeks of political wrangling that kept the Senate in session for a second straight weekend, senators on Tuesday passed a landmark bill to authorize some $ 550 billion in new spending and invest a total of more than $ 1,000 billion over five years in the nation’s aging roads, bridges, rails, pipes and other infrastructure.
Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch of Idaho were among 19 Republicans who voted for the bill along with all 50 Democratic caucus members, including Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray of Washington. Biparty legislation was negotiated by a group of moderate senators, five from each party, and would send billions of federal dollars inside the Northwest for repairs and upgrades. Democrats and many Republicans agree that they are long overdue.
Cantwell, who chairs the Trade, Science and Transportation Committee, said the transport bill’s provisions will help tackle congestion and spur economic growth in the region.
“Spokane’s commuters and the region’s growing manufacturing and logistics economies depend on the ability to move people and goods quickly to their destinations,” she said in a statement. “The investments in this bill will help reduce delays at level crossings in the Spokane Valley, keep key road projects like the North-South Highway on track, and provide resources to Spokane Transit as ‘it continues to expand its bus rapid transit network. “
Cantwell also highlighted the $ 66 billion the bill provides for passenger and freight rail transport, including $ 16 billion for Amtrak’s long-haul routes – like the Empire Builder that runs through Spokane on its way. from Chicago to Seattle and Portland – and shorter, state-backed routes, like the Cascades that connect Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Ore.
“Spokane International Airport will be able to compete for $ 5 billion in grants for terminal renovation projects,” Cantwell continued. “A new culvert removal and replacement program will tackle blocked salmon crossings under roads and railroads, and $ 3.4 billion will be spent on the Forest Service to reduce the risk of forest fires.” “
In a statement, Crapo said infrastructure investments are expected to counter the inflation that causes prices to rise and provide long-term benefits to Idaho residents.
“The bipartisan legislation we passed today invests in traditional and tough infrastructure projects to help keep pace with Idaho’s rapid growth,” he said, highlighting his investments in roads. and bridges, high-speed internet, and measures to make the West more resilient to drought and forest fires.
As the GOP’s first member of the finance committee, the panel responsible for revenue matters, Crapo also stressed that the bill would not raise taxes. Instead, it aims to pay for the investments by reallocating unused pandemic relief funds, various fees, and reinstating the Superfund tax on chemical manufacturers, which the law defines as a fee.
Critics, including many Republicans who voted no, accused supporters of the creative accounting bill and said it would not be fully written off. An analysis released by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last week predicted the bill would increase the deficit by $ 256 billion over a decade, but that CBO score did not account for unspent COVID-19 relief dollars.
The spirit of bipartisanship brought by the infrastructure bill did not last long, however. On Monday, Democrats unveiled a budget resolution that would allow them to approve an additional $ 3.5 trillion over 10 years for a wide range of social programs and other investments they call “human infrastructure.”
This broader definition of infrastructure sees the lack of affordable childcare or paid family leave as major barriers to economic opportunity and well-being, on par with long commutes and slow internet connections. that the bipartisan bill seeks to remedy. The Democrats-only package includes an extension to monthly child tax credit payments that began in July, free community college, and grants to lower the cost of child care while increasing the wages of workers who care for it. provide.
Speaking in the Senate on Monday, Crapo denounced the Democrats’ $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution, calling it a “reckless tax and spending proposal” and making a clear distinction between the bill, which no Republican ‘is supposed to support, and the bipartite project’ material infrastructure ‘package.
Democrats plan to use a process called budget reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote majority needed to pass most laws in the Senate. Republicans used the same process in 2017 to pass a broad package of tax cuts. Democrats aim to undo some of these cuts for businesses and wealthier Americans, but President Joe Biden has vowed not to raise taxes for anyone who earns less than $ 400,000 a year.
Murray, the third Democrat in the Senate, issued five separate statements on aspects of the infrastructure bill, illustrating just how extensive the legislation is. After highlighting investments in broadband access, electric school buses, salmon salvage and more, she turned to the $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution.
“This is a significant investment in our physical infrastructure,” she said in one of those statements, “and then we will get down to work to ensure a truly historic investment in families and children. American workers by passing the budget resolution. “
The bulk of infrastructure funding would be distributed through a combination of formula-based allocations and subsidy programs. It is not yet clear exactly how much money each state will receive, but according to the White House, Washington would receive at least $ 4.7 billion for highways, $ 605 million for bridges, $ 1.8 billion for highways. transit and $ 71 million for electric vehicle charging stations. . Idaho would get at least $ 2 billion for highways, $ 225 million for bridges, $ 198 million for public transit, and $ 30 million for electric vehicle charging.
All states could also ask for billions more through grant programs. According to an estimate from the Cantwell office, Spokane International Airport would receive $ 32.3 million and Tri-Cities Airport $ 16.7 million in grants.
Risch, who prides himself on being the most conservative senator in the country, explained his vote for the bill as a way to curb Democrats’ ambitions for “hard” infrastructure, for which Biden had originally proposed. to spend over $ 2 trillion.
“Senators had two choices: this $ 550 billion package with no tax hike, or allow Democrats to pass the $ 2.5 trillion Biden proposal, raise taxes and add it to their next frenzy of social spending of $ 3.5 trillion, ”Risch said in a statement. . “On behalf of Idaho, I have chosen to support the lower $ 550 billion investment in physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges and broadband. I think this is the significantly more reasonable and conservative solution to the necessary infrastructure spending. “
In addition to the roughly $ 550 billion in new spending, the bill also renews a series of programs that will expire at the end of September, at a total cost of approximately $ 1.2 trillion.
Senators voted on several amendments to the infrastructure bill as it neared the finish line last week. An amendment, supported by 90 senators, would allow urban Indian health centers like the NATIVE project in Spokane to use existing funds to carry out major renovations, including modernizing air filtration systems and expanding facilities. waiting zones to allow social distancing. These changes, important in preventing the spread of COVID-19, have been impossible due to restrictive language in an existing law.
Shortly after the bipartisan bill was passed on Monday, the Senate began debate on the $ 3.5 trillion budget resolution. This kicked off a so-called “vote-a-rama”, where the chamber votes on non-binding amendments until 50 hours before Vice President Kamala Harris can cast the deciding vote to break. the expected equality 50-50 in the equally divided Senate. .
Senators, who have already lost part of their August annual leave due to the infrastructure vote, are eager to return to their home countries and are expected to strike a deal to shorten the 50-hour debate.
After passing in the Senate, both bills will go to the House, where Progressive Democrats have threatened to block the bipartisan infrastructure package unless the Senate also sends them the $ 3.5 trillion spending bill. dollars. The House will be out of session until September 20, when Democrats could pass the two bills and send them to Biden’s office for proclamation.