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Senate Passes The Largest Infrastructure Package In Decades, Over A Dozen Republicans Vote In Favor


Reported by ANDREW TRUNSKY | POLITICAL REPORTER | August 10, 2021

Read more at https://dailycaller.com/2021/08/10/senate-passes-infrastructure-package-dozen-republicans-join-dems-kyrsten-sinema-rob-portman-joe-biden/

Lawmakers Continue To Work On Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal On Capitol Hill
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Senate on Tuesday passed its bipartisan infrastructure bill, moving what would be the largest public works package in decades one step closer to becoming law months after negotiations first began. The bill, which advocates praised as the largest investment in America’s infrastructure since the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s, passed 69-30. Nineteen Republicans joined every Democrat in voting for the package.

The legislation, titled the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), was on a glide path to passage after beating a Senate filibuster Sunday night, when 68 senators voted to end debate.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the bill’s lead Democratic negotiator, said Monday on the Senate floor that the bill would “make America stronger and safer, create good-paying jobs and expand economic opportunities across the country,” and praised her colleagues for their commitment to reaching an agreement. “This is what it looks like when elected leaders take a step toward healing our country’s divisions rather than feeding [them],” she added.

The IIJA costs $1.2 trillion over eight years, $550 billion of which is new government spending, and puts hundreds of billions of federal dollars toward roads, bridges, ports, broadband and more. It was led by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman on the Republican side, and was the product of negotiations among 22 senators and President Joe Biden.

“[This is] landmark and needed legislation in fixing our roads, railroads, our ports, electrical grid and more,” Portman said on the floor. “I’m proud of what was done on that … It will improve the lives of all Americans. It’s long-term spending to repair and replace and build assets that will last for decades.”

Talks first began with West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, but collapsed after she and the White House could not agree on the overall size and scope of the bill. Negotiations then shifted to the bipartisan group, but remained precarious for weeks as they struggled to compromise on how to finance the new spending and what it should cover.

It was late July when Portman announced that the group had reached agreement on the “major issues,” and that Republicans were ready to move forward. 

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema speaks after the bipartisan bill cleared its first procedural vote in July. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema speaks after the bipartisan bill cleared its first procedural vote in July. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The bill cleared its first procedural vote hours later with the support of 17 Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a clear indication that it had the necessary support to beat a filibuster and pass. Two days later, 16 Republicans joined Democrats in officially voting to begin debate.

Senators originally sought to pass the bill last week or over the weekend, but were blocked from doing so by Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty, who refused to forgo hours of scheduled debate. He cited the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate that the bill would add $256 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years, arguing that the legislation was not fully paid for, unlike what its negotiators previously said.

Hagerty’s delays earned praise from former President Donald Trump on Sunday, who had repeatedly tried to intimidate Republicans into opposing the package. In multiple email statements he disparaged McConnell for supporting the bill, calling it a “disgrace” and the “beginning of the Green New Deal,” and floated backing primary challengers against other Republicans who backed it. 

With the IIJA’s passing, senators are now set to take up their budget resolution, keeping them in Washington for another marathon session with dozens of politically tricky amendment votes and eating into their prized August recess. The mammoth resolution, unveiled by Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday, addresses priorities omitted from the infrastructure bill including health care, climate change and immigration and as outlined costs $3.5 trillion.

“This legislation in so many ways begins to address the working families of our country,” Sanders said on the Senate floor Monday. “But in one important way, maybe the most important, is as we address the needs of our people in health care and education and climate, we are going to create many millions of good-paying jobs that the American people desperately need.” 

Sen. Bernie Sanders authored Democrats' $3.5 trillion budget, which he has acknowledged will likely pass on party lines. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders authored Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget, which he has acknowledged will likely pass on party lines. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

While Republicans unanimously oppose the reconciliation package, Senate rules allow for Democrats to pass it with just a simple majority vote, meaning that it could pass strictly along party lines if their caucus all votes for it.

McConnell on Tuesday accused Democrats of playing “Russian roulette with our country” and said the budget would be the “largest peacetime tax hike on record.”

“This new reckless taxing and spending spree will fall like a hammer blow on workers and middle-class families,” McConnell said. “If all 50 Democrats want to help [Budget Committee] Chairman Sanders hurt middle-class families … well, that’s their prerogative, but we’re going to argue it out right here on the floor at some length.”

Several progressives, however, have sought to tie the bipartisan bill with the reconciliation package, with some in the House hinging their support for the former on Senate Democrats passing the latter. In an attempt to hold her narrow majority together, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that she will not bring the bipartisan bill up for a vote until the Senate passes the reconciliation package as well, despite moderates urging her to bring up the infrastructure package as soon as possible. 

Others have also been critical of the infrastructure bill, which was adopted as a substitute for the $715 billion surface transportation bill that the House passed in July, arguing that it inadequately invests in climate, housing, child care and more.

Oregon Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, reportedly called the bill “crap” after a deal was reached, lamenting the fact that it omitted large swaths of the transportation bill he authored and disregarding the White House’s endorsement of it.

“I could give a damn about the White House. We’re an independent branch of government,” he told reporters in July. “They cut this deal. I didn’t sign off on it.”

Senate Republicans unveil revised healthcare bill


Reported

Senate Republican leaders on Thursday unveiled a revised version of their bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare as they race toward a high-stakes vote next week. The measure includes changes intended to win over additional votes, with leadership making concessions aimed at bringing both conservatives and moderates on board. (READ THE BILL HERE.)

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is facing a tough task in finding enough votes to pass the bill. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appear to be firmly against the measure, and one other defection would kill the bill. Overall, McConnell appears to have shifted the revised bill more toward the conservatives than the moderates.

Importantly, the bill largely keeps the Medicaid sections the same, meaning that deeper cuts to the program will still begin in 2025, and the funds for ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid will still end in 2024. The changes to Medicaid have emerged as a top concern for moderates such as Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that those Medicaid changes in the original bill would result in 15 million fewer people being enrolled in the program and cut spending by $772 billion over 10 years.

Collins said she still plans to vote against a motion to proceed to the bill, adding that the legislation should move through the normal committee process.

“My strong inclination and current intention is to vote no on the motion to proceed,” Collins told reporters after leaving a briefing on the legislation.

“The only way I’d change my mind is if there’s something in the new bill that wasn’t discussed or that I didn’t fully understand or the CBO estimate comes out and says they fixed the Medicaid cuts, which I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

For the conservatives, the measure includes a version of an amendment from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee  (R-Utah) aimed at allowing insurers to offer plans that do not meet all of ObamaCare’s regulations, including those protecting people with pre-existing conditions and mandating that plans cover certain services, such as maternity care and mental healthcare.

Conservatives argue the change would allow healthier people to buy cheaper plans, but moderates and many healthcare experts warn that premiums would spike for the sick people remaining in the more generous insurance plans.

Cruz said he will support the bill so long as the provisions he sees as a priority are not changed in amendment votes on the floor.

“If this is the bill, I will support this bill,” Cruz told reporters after a meeting of GOP senators. “Now, if it’s amended and we lose the protections that lower premiums, my view could well change.”

Senate Republicans had vowed to not change the ObamaCare protections for people from being charged more based on their health in their bill, which is why the debate over the Cruz-Lee amendment has been heated. A Senate GOP aide said Thursday it is possible that the Cruz amendment would not be analyzed by the CBO in time for the vote next week. It is possible the Department of Health and Human Services could provide an alternative analysis.

Lee cautioned that he was not involved in the changes to the proposal, including the amendment, and would have to review the new language before deciding whether to support it. The bill does include new funding, $70 billion over seven years, aimed at easing costs for those sick people remaining in the ObamaCare plans.

However, the new measure does not boost the generosity of the tax credits, as some moderates wanted. It still replaces ObamaCare’s tax credits to help people afford insurance with a smaller, scaled-down tax credit that provides less assistance.

The Kaiser Family Foundation found premium costs would increase an average of 74 percent for the most popular healthcare plan, given the reduced assistance in the GOP bill.

The new measure will leave in place two ObamaCare taxes on the wealthy, in a departure from the initial bill.

That original measure lacked the support to pass, as more moderate members pointed to the CBO’s finding that 22 million fewer people would have insurance over a decade.

Senate Republicans are now awaiting a new score of the revised legislation from the CBO, which could come early next week.

The new bill does include $45 billion to fight opioid addiction, but moderates such as Capito and Portman who hail from states where the problem is rampant have said they also want changes to the Medicaid portion of the legislation.

Portman said his position on the bill had not changed, but he did not give a clear answer on whether he’d back his party on the procedural vote.

“I’m the same position I’ve been in. I’m looking at the language,” he said.

Capito also said she doesn’t know whether she’ll vote to proceed to the bill.

“We have another meeting this afternoon on the Medicaid cuts,” she told reporters. “I need to really look at it, look at the score; I still have concerns.”

Asked if she would vote for the motion to proceed next week, she said, “Wait and see.”

In a change that could appeal to Murkowski, the bill sets aside 1 percent of the stability funds for states with costs that are 75 percent above the national average, which would benefit high-cost states like Alaska.

— This story was updated at 3:15 p.m. Alexander Bolton contributed.

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