Senate negotiators reached agreement with the White House Wednesday on details of a bipartisan infrastructure package that would provide $550 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, waterways, rural broadband and other needs.
Wednesday evening, the Senate voted 67-32 to begin debate on the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the Senate would finish work on the bill before the August recess while also passing a budget resolution for other Democratic spending priorities.
The legislation includes $110 billion in new funding for roads and budgets and $65 billion for broadband expansion. Also in the legislation is $73 billion for clean power transmission as well as additional funding for ports and waterways and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail improvements.
Some $9.6 billion is designated for Army Corps of Engineers priorities, including $5.2 billion set aside for new construction, and another $8.3 billion is provided for Western water needs. The Western water funding includes $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure and $1.2 billion for water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects.
The bill also would provide $618 million over five years for the Agriculture Department's watershed programs.
Also included is $10 million for a byproduct pilot program at USDA that would study the benefits of using materials derived from farm commodities in construction and consumer products.
"This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things. As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future," said President Joe Biden. "This deal makes key investments to put people to work all across the country — in cities, small towns, rural communities, and across our coastlines and plains."
A summary of the bill's broadband section says $40 billion would be routed through states, territories and the District of Columbia. Projects that are funded would have to provide speeds of 100 megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload. There would be a 10% set-aside for "high-cost" areas.
States would have to have "enforceable plans" for addressing all of their unserved areas before funding projects in areas classified as underserved, the summary says.
Another $2 billion would be earmarked specifically for USDA broadband programs, including its ReConnect grant and loan program.
The negotiators settled on a variety of means to pay for the legislation, including the use of unspent COVID-19 relief funds. There are no new or increased user fees, such as a higher gas tax or a fee for electric vehicles.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., may have boosted the chances of the bill passing the Senate when she told the Arizona Republic that she wouldn’t support the full $3.5 trillion in additional spending that Democrats are trying to pass on a partisan basis through the budget reconciliation process.
Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that Sinema’s statement should help win over Republicans who worried that they are making it easier for Democrats to pass the $3.5 trillion.
"It's helpful if our members believe that supporting this bipartisan package means that the overall cost and the debt and the taxes, everything else, is going to be less in the end," Thune said.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., told reporters, "There's a lot to like about this legislation in terms of job creation and what it's going to do for our economy."
Ahead of the Senate's procedural vote Wednesday evening, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers issued a statement welcoming the agreement: "This bipartisan infrastructure deal will address our country’s infrastructure needs while also growing the economy, enhancing our competitiveness, and creating as many as 100,000 family-sustaining equipment manufacturing jobs."