May 16, 2022

Senate Votes on Infrastructure – A Short-Lived Success?

The Senate voted 67 to 32 to begin discussions on the proposed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that had been negotiated by a bipartisan group of 21 senators. But despite the accompanying celebrations and the possibility of its passage, the success of the bill may hinge on the further $3.5 trillion plan, which now looks more uncertain than ever. With some Republicans and Democrats still unwilling to bite the bullet on each bill, this apparent victory could be a defining moment in discovering whether politicians who pay lip service to bipartisanship are truly willing to work across the aisle for the larger package. And without such commitments, the fate of the smaller bill itself is in jeopardy.

Where’s the Text?

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Despite a number of GOP senators siding with Democrats on the procedural vote for the bipartisan bill – including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) – many are not ready to commit until the text is finalized. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), wrote soon after that:

“I voted no on #infrastructure a week ago because there was no legislative text. My mind hasn’t changed. There’s still no legislative text or explanation on how to pay for a $1T infrastructure plan.”

While 17 GOP senators voted to get the ball rolling, whether or not they will continue to support the passage after the bill is finally written remains to be seen. Texas Senator John Cornyn (R) reportedly said that he “will not be voting for it until it’s written, and we’ve seen the text.” But Republican hurdles are not the only problems facing the two spending packages.

Opposition Within

One of the largest stumbling blocks comes from within the Democratic Party in the form of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who has repeatedly stated that she will not bring the smaller bipartisan bill just voted upon to the House floor unless the Senate passes the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure – meaning the package can pass with a simple majority. Putting the potential brakes on this hope is the current 50-50 Senate split and Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who released a statement on Wednesday concluding that she would not back her party as things currently stand. She wrote:

“I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans … I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

So, either Democrats will have to juggle the final price tag or reach out across the aisle to earn Republican support. Speaking to reporters after the procedural vote, Sinema expressed support for the smaller $1.2 trillion effort: “I think the strength of our vote tonight showed that we have support from both parties from folks who are fiscally responsible, fiscally conservative,” she said, adding that the success of the vote demonstrated “that bipartisan[ship] is alive and well and works in our country.”

No Safe Passage in the House?

However, some Democrats were despondent over Sinema’s position. New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reacted to Sinema’s statement, tweeting, “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.’”

AOC was referring to the skin color of those who negotiated the initial package. Her racial optics issue was echoed by fellow Squad member and first-term Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-MO) , who tweeted a picture of the senators involved, asking, “Is this the Bipartisan Infrastructure Group or the audience at a Kid Rock concert?” Bush accompanied this barb with the hashtag “#NegotiationsSoWhite.”

The Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in the House, and during this Congress, that has often been enough to fend off the GOP minority. But with prominent progressive members already balking at the racial make-up of the negotiators, the passage of either spending package through the lower chamber is far from a done deal.

Beset On All Sides

With Wednesday’s procedural vote, the first step is over, yet the road toward completion is long and winding. After months of haggling over the details of the smaller spending package, and with a congressional recess fast approaching, it may be that the larger package gets kicked into the long grass. A week is a long time in politics; priorities can change, elections begin to loom larger. If progress and commitments are not made on the combined bills soon, a month or more away from D.C. might just be the final nail in the coffin for President Biden’s big-spending legacy.

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