US Senate votes to advance bipartisan infrastructure bill

The US Senate has voted to proceed with a bipartisan infrastructure deal, clearing the first hurdle towards adopting a long-awaited and hotly debated spending package.

In a key procedural vote on Wednesday night, senators voted 67-32 to push the bill forward, meeting the 60-vote threshold, reports Xinhua news agency.

All 50 Democrats and 17 Republicans voted in favour.

The vote starts the process to debate and amend the proposal, and the final version still needs approval from both chambers.

The vote came just a few hours after Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, the top Republican negotiator, told reporters that a bipartisan group of senators had reached an agreement on the major issues of the infrastructure plan.

The agreement was reached after months of strenuous negotiations between Senate Democrats and Republicans.

Last month, President Joe Biden had announced that he reached a deal with a bipartisan group of senators on a roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan.

Over the past few weeks, senators have been trying to nail down details of the infrastructure package.

About a week ago, Senate Republicans blocked a procedural vote to advance the infrastructure bill, calling for more time to negotiate the bill and finalise the details.

The bill includes $550 billion in new spending on infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, passenger rails, drinking water and waste water systems.

The rest of the package involves previously approved spending.

Responding to the vote, Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a budget watchdog group, said: “It is very encouraging that our leaders have put partisanship aside and come together to make important investments in the economy,” but “we are deeply concerned that this legislation does not appear to be fully paid for.”

Noting that the offsets appear to be a combination of real pay-fors and “budget gimmicks”, MacGuineas urged policymakers to identify additional offsets to fully cover the costs and ideally, as Biden proposed,reduce long-term deficits.

Between income tax revenue, user fees, and spending reforms, there are plenty of offsets available, she added.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders also seek to advance a separate $3.5 trillion bill, which aims to enact most of Biden’s social-spending agenda without Republican support, using a process known as budget reconciliation.

With the Senate split 50-50, Democrats must keep moderates, who could oppose elements of Biden’s agenda, on their side.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who is the lead Democratic negotiator in the infrastructure talks, already announced on Wednesday that she doesn’t agree with the $3.5 trillion price tag of the social spending package.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a prominent progressive figure in the party, lambasted Sinema’s position.

Despite agreement on the infrastructure package, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday lashed out at Democrats’ social-spending plan.

“More than 80 per cent of Americans are worried about the rising cost of living. More than 70 per cent are worried about slamming our economy with big tax hikes,” McConnell said in a tweet.

Democrats’ big priority is another reckless taxing and spending spree, said the Republican leader.

Biden and Democratic leaders, however, have been arguing that investment in child care, education and health care would reduce income inequality, strengthen the middle class, and build long-term economic growth.