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Bullet policy · Aug 16, 2021

Senate Clears Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 69-30 to pass an historic bipartisan infrastructure legislation containing billions for climate resilience and public transit. Nineteen Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), voted in favor of the measure, which includes $550 billion in new spending.

Overall, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684), would provide about $1 trillion to programs across federal agencies. In addition to major investments in roads, bridges, railways, and public transit, the bill includes funding for broadband internet access, water and wastewater infrastructure, electric vehicle charging stations, clean transportation, and carbon capture efforts. More than $500 million would go to initiatives within the U.S. Geological Survey. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would receive $2.6 billion under the bill, including $492 million for mapping and forecasting inland and coastal flooding; nearly $300 million for habitat restoration projects; $20 million for consultations and permitting related to the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act; and $50 million to predict, model, and detect wildfires. The infrastructure bill now needs to be passed by the House before President Biden can sign it into law.

After passing the bipartisan infrastructure legislation, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) moved to pass a second, larger 10-year budget resolution totaling about $3.5 trillion and focused on President Biden’s economic and climate agenda. The budget blueprint provides instructions for various committees to draft a budget reconciliation package that could pass both chambers by a simple majority. The reconciliation process allows legislation to bypass a Senate filibuster and circumvent the 60-vote threshold.

The budget framework provides the outline for a spending package aimed at expanding certain domestic programs and combating climate change by significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill does not include any research dollars, the reconciliation package is expected to include some funding for research-related programs. The plan includes $44 billion for programs under the jurisdiction of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A memorandum for Democratic senators indicates unspecified investments in the National Science Foundation’s new technology directorate, climate research, and research infrastructure at Department of Energy National Labs and minority-serving institutions. Overall, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation would be allocated $83 billion for climate resiliency projects and environmental research.

On August 11, the Senate voted 50-49 to pass the budget blueprint along party lines. However, the reconciliation package is likely to face an uphill battle, with some Democrats expressing reservations about the topline spending level. “I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion,” said Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

The House is expected to come back from recess the week of August 23 to pass the budget resolution. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has pledged not to hold a vote on the bipartisan bill until the reconciliation package clears the Senate. In response, a group of nine moderate House Democrats have indicated in a letter to Speaker Pelosi that they would withhold support for the $3.5 trillion budget resolution until the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is signed into law—a move that could complicate negotiations over the two measures going forward.

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