WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement Wednesday on a $1 trillion infrastructure package, with the Senate ready to begin consideration of a key part of the administration’s agenda. An evening test vote was possible.
Biden welcomed the accord as one that would show America can “do big things” — with the most significant long-term investments in nearly a century, on par with building the transcontinental railroad or the Interstate highway system.
“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function,” Biden said in a statement. “We will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”
Lead GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced the deal earlier at the Capitol, flanked by four other Republican senators who have been in talks with Democrats and the White House on the bipartisan package.
“We now have an agreement on the major issues,” Portman said. “We are prepared to move forward.”
Still, the agreement only pushes the package toward consideration by the full Senate. It’s unclear if enough Republican senators will support passage, and many of them raised questions during a private lunch Wednesday. Senators were given a thick binder of briefing materials but wanted more details.
The outcome will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s much more ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan pursuit of far-reaching programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans strongly oppose that bill, and may try to stop both.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the Senate on Wednesday announcing a possible evening test vote, nudging talks along. It would require 60 votes in the evenly split 50-50 Senate to proceed to consideration, meaning support from both parties. That would launch a potentially days-long process.
Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell did not disclose during the lunch how he would vote, senators said. The Republican negotiators met with McConnell earlier Wednesday and he appeared to give his nod to proceeding. Portman said the leader “all along has been encouraging our efforts.”
Democrats, who have slim control of the House and Senate, face a timeline to act on what would be some of the most substantial pieces of legislation in years.
The new spending in the package dropped from about $600 billion to $550 billion, senators said, as money was eliminated for a public-private infrastructure bank and was reduced in other categories, including transit.
The package still includes $110 billion for highways, $65 billion for broadband and $73 billion to modernize the nation’s electric grid, according a White House fact sheet.
Additionally, there’s $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for waterworks and more than $50 billion to bolster infrastructure against cyberattacks and climate change. There’s also $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations.