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Senators Show Off Work on $1T Bill     08/04 06:13

   The senators who spent months stitching together a nearly $1 trillion 
infrastructure package are now trying to sell it to the American people before 
a key vote expected this week that would push a long recognized national 
priority much closer to the finish line, after years of talk.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The senators who spent months stitching together a nearly 
$1 trillion infrastructure package are now trying to sell it to the American 
people before a key vote expected this week that would push a long recognized 
national priority much closer to the finish line, after years of talk.

   Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Tuesday that the $65 billion for broadband 
means that some people in her state would get access to the internet for the 
first time. "The pandemic that we have endured for more than a year laid bare 
the disparities in access to high-speed internet," Collins said.

   Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke of how the bill would lead to more 
rural and Native Alaskans having access to a sink to wash their hands in. The 
bill dedicates about $55 billion in new funding for water and wastewater 
systems. "We have to do right by our Native people," she said.

   Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., noted there is about $16 billion for the U.S. Army 
Corps of Engineers that would help fund projects designed to curb coastal 
erosion. "My state has lost as much land as is in the entire state of Delaware. 
But other states are losing land, too," he said.

   And Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., talked about how $110 billion in new funding 
for roads and bridges would mean access to markets for farms in Montana such as 
his own. "It is critically important we keep our aging bridges and roads and 
airports up to snuff," Tester said.

   The lawmakers, part of a group that they like to call the G-10, for gang of 
10 -- five Republican, five Democratic senators -- are appealing to the wishes 
of many voters for not only better airports, roads and internet service, but 
also for some bipartisanship in Washington, without being directly asked to pay 
for those improvements through higher income taxes or user fees.

   While it's looking like the Senate will approve the bill during the coming 
week, supporters of the legislation will face an array of obstacles advancing 
the package, a major priority in President Joe Biden's agenda. Interest groups 
on both sides of the political spectrum are taking aim at provisions they don't 
like, potentially unraveling the agreement.

   Some conservatives don't like that the agreement moves the country further 
away from relying on user fees, such as the federal gas tax, to pay for highway 
and transit improvements. Others are wary that the bill sets a course for much 
more federal spending after the government already provided for nearly $5 
trillion dedicated to COVID relief. This week, the Treasury Department warned 
Congress it was hitting the nation's debt limit.

   "Every single time we add an enormous sum to our national debt, there is 
bipartisanship behind it," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.

   Environmental groups worry that the bill doesn't do enough to address 
climate change.

   "It is clear that the deal does not meet the moment on climate or justice," 
said Tiernan Sittenfeld, a senior vice president of the League of Conservation 

   The pressure from the left underpins House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement 
that there won't be a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure plan until 
the Senate also passes the $3.5 trillion Democratic bill that boosts spending 
on health, environment and social programs.

   The Senate is plowing through efforts to amend the narrower infrastructure 
bill, which will require 60 votes to advance for passage. Senate Majority 
Leader Chuck Schumer is intent on passing the legislation as soon as possible 
so that the Senate can turn its attention to a budget blueprint that will set 
the stage for crafting and passing the larger $3.5 trillion package in the fall.

   Formally called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the proposal has 
clocked in at some 2,700 pages.

   The Senate's Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has sided 
with those voting to allow debate to proceed, but he has not said how he will 
ultimately vote. He said Tuesday the bill has a chance to be a "bipartisan 
success story for the country," but he is warning Democrats against trying to 
speed up the amendment process.

   "Like a lot of us, I'm interested in what it looks like in the end," 
McConnell said. He noted that "the past two administrations tried to do it, 
were unable to. The American people need it. I think it's one of those areas 
where there seems to be broad, bipartisan agreement."

   By evening, the Senate had overwhelmingly approved three noncontroversial 
amendments, while rejecting three others. As the amendment process continued, 
senators were weighing how much to try to change the package and how hard to 
try, knowing it would be difficult to reach the 60-vote threshold to approve 
any substantial changes.

   In addition to the $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges and 
$55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure, the bipartisan package is 
expected to provide, $39 billion for public transit and $66 billion for rail. 
There's also to be billions for airports, ports, broadband internet and 
electric vehicle charging stations.

   Paying for the package has been a challenge after senators rejected ideas to 
raise revenue from a new gas tax or other streams. Instead, it is being 
financed from funding sources that might not pass muster with deficit hawks, 
including repurposing some $205 billion in untapped COVID-19 relief aid, as 
well as unemployment assistance that was turned back by some states, and 
relying on projected future economic growth.

   The bipartisan bill still faces a rough road in the House, where progressive 
lawmakers want a more robust package but may have to settle for this one to 
keep Biden's infrastructure plans on track.

   The outcome with the bipartisan effort will set the stage for the next 
debate over Biden's much more ambitious $3.5 trillion package, a strictly 
partisan pursuit of far-reaching programs and services including child care and 
health care that touch almost every corner of American life. Republicans 
strongly oppose that bill, which would require a simple majority for passage. 
Final votes on that measure are not expected until fall.

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