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Recently, the bipartisan negotiations surrounding a potential federal infrastructure deal looked like they could be on a road to nowhere. But repeated efforts to find agreement led to a significant breakthrough this week, with the U.S. Senate voting to advance a $1 trillion package that would invest in America’s roads, bridges, rail service, public transportation, clean water, electric vehicle charging and broadband infrastructure.
“Tonight, we celebrate not only a long-overdue, much-needed investment in our infrastructure, but also the fact that bipartisanship is still possible,” Sen. Susan Collins, a key player in these negotiations, said Wednesday evening after the vote to begin debate on the bill. She was one of 17 Senate Republicans to support the procedural motion, along with all members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
“We have shown America that we can work together, that we can put aside ideological differences and work together to find common ground on an issue that affects each and every American,” Collins added. “I’m very proud of what all of us have done. We still have a long ways to go before we get to the finish line, but this was a vitally important first step.”
Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats and is part of the bipartisan group of negotiators, also called the agreement “an important first step” in a separate statement.
“For too long, America’s infrastructure needs have gone unaddressed as partisan politics delayed efforts to meet the needs of our citizens. No longer,” King said. “Today, our bipartisan group has produced an agreement that will invest in American infrastructure to support our economy, our communities, and our health. From repairs to our crumbling roads and bridges to funding to confront the threat of climate change and additional resources for our ports and public transit, this legislation will make a major difference in the lives of American people.”
As both Collins and King have emphasized, this process is far from over. Wednesday’s initial vote came before the proposal text had been released. While it’s very encouraging that 67 Senators voted to advance it — with some breathing room above the 60 vote threshold to clear a filibuster — several of the Republicans who voted for it have indicated they’re still undecided on final passage. There’s also a risk of losing some Democrats, especially on the far left.
And that’s just the uncertain path in the Senate. There could be even more roadblocks in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she won’t move forward with the bipartisan bill until the Senate has passed a larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that includes other investments in areas such as education, childcare and paid leave.
“I can’t commit to passing something that I don’t even know what it is yet. But I am hoping for the best,” Pelosi said Wednesday morning.
We hope she listens to Maine’s Second District Rep. Jared Golden and nine of his Democratic colleagues, who sent a letter earlier this month urging Pelosi and House leadership not to delay a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Golden is also a member of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which was involved in the bipartisan conversations.
“No matter their state, district, or party affiliation, every American will benefit from investments in the bridges, roads, rail, ports, and broadband that they use to reach their jobs, education, health care, and loved ones,” Golden and his colleagues wrote in the letter. “The potential benefits are too great and the needs too urgent to delay even a day in sending such a bill to the president’s desk.”
While President Joe Biden caused some confusion earlier in the infrastructure negotiations, he offered clear support for the bipartisan deal announced and advanced this week.
“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things,” Biden said in a statement before Wednesday’s Senate vote. “As we did with the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway, we will once again transform America and propel us into the future.”
It’s critical that the political parties be able to work through differences and deliver for the American people. That ability is almost becoming a lost art in the current political climate, and Congress must continue to use its bipartisan muscle memory to achieve that. This step in the right direction on infrastructure is proof that those muscles still work.