Senate GOP poised to give Biden huge political victory
Senate Republicans are about to hand President Biden a huge political victory by voting for a historic $1 trillion infrastructure package that the president can then tout as fulfilling a campaign pledge to restore bipartisanship in Washington.
GOP senators and aides predict as many as 20 Republicans — twice the number needed to avoid a filibuster — could vote for the legislation, which would provide the most funding in decades for roads, airports, railroads, drinking water and other priorities.
“I think everybody pretty much knows what they’re going to do. I think some people are trying to get to yes,” said a Republican senator who helped craft the legislation that was unveiled on Sunday. “So my prediction is 20.”
The legislation needs 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and make it to final passage, meaning no more than 10 Republicans are needed.
But 17 Republicans voted last week to begin debate on the bill, and at least that many are now expected to support the measure on final passage.
All 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are expected to vote for the legislation.
Republican lawmakers insisted at the start of the debate that the entire package be paid for with various offsets. But as the massive bill nears the finish line, GOP senators say they are willing to support it, even if the Congressional Budget Office says it will add to the federal deficit.
Senate Republicans acknowledge the legislation is a political win for Biden, though they also see it as a win for themselves. They say it will give GOP senators something to campaign on for the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans are looking to win back the Senate majority.
Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said the need to deliver for constituents outweighs the more abstract political calculations over how much the bill might help Biden.
“Irrespective of what’s going on in the politics of the country, if you can get people to work together in a fashion on an issue that’s important to the country’s competitiveness,” it’s a good thing, Thune argued.
“You can look back throughout history and see examples of that, whether it’s 4G or the interstate highway system,” he added, pointing to examples of how federal spending on infrastructure helped the nation’s economy.
“I think Republicans get some benefit from it,” Thune said. “Anytime people are working together to try to get results, I think that in the long term accrues to their benefit.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who will vote for the legislation, argued on the Senate floor Thursday that red states would have gotten far less money for infrastructure if GOP senators had refused to negotiate and forced Democrats to pass a bill with only Democratic votes.
“It’s fair to say if Democrats alone write an infrastructure bill, my state of Utah won’t be real happy by the time that’s done,” he said.
But Republicans are divided on whether giving Biden a major policy win is a smart move politically, even though GOP lawmakers who vote for the legislation will share in the credit.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who said he will vote against the legislation, pointed out “the president is very enthusiastically behind this bill.”
Hawley characterized the bipartisan package as part of Biden’s broader spending agenda, which Democrats plan to complete later this year by moving an even bigger bill under the budget reconciliation process that will allow them to proceed without any GOP votes.
“It’s really one coherent agenda, it is a very left-wing agenda,” Hawley said. “The president has described it as a transformational agenda. He’s very clear on that and he will celebrate this as a big win. He will go to the progressive wing of his party and say this is a massive down payment on the transformational agenda.”
“That’s one reason why I think it’s a mistake for Republicans to support it,” Hawley added. “My own view is that this is Republicans supporting the Joe Biden agenda.”
That view is shared by former President Trump, who has urged Republicans to sink the bipartisan bill, arguing it’s a “bad deal.”
Trump last week attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for not putting up more resistance to the infrastructure bill.
“Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose. He lost Arizona, he lost Georgia, he ignored Election Fraud and he doesn’t fight. Now he’s giving Democrats everything they want and getting nothing in return. No deal is better than a bad deal,” Trump fumed in a statement.
McConnell was one of the 17 Republicans who voted to proceed to the infrastructure legislation. On Monday, he praised it as “a good and important jumping-off point” before the chamber considered amendments to the legislation.
Republicans say Trump’s lobbying campaign isn’t having much effect, if any.
“I disagree with the former president on that. I think that you want to celebrate successes no matter when they happen,” said Thune. “I’m looking at the merits of the bill.”
Trump failed to secure passage of a major infrastructure bill during his time in office, even when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said Trump’s scathing criticism of the bipartisan bill “really doesn’t enter into the conversation” among GOP senators who are reviewing the legislation.
McConnell, a senior member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, has long touted his ability to deliver millions of dollars in federal support to his home state.
The GOP leader often reminded constituents last year, when he was seeking a seventh term, that he has helped Kentucky “punch above its weight.”
“My last term, $17.5 billion for the commonwealth that would not have been there had I not been the majority leader of the Senate,” McConnell boasted during a debate with Democratic opponent Amy McGrath in October.
McConnell at times seemed almost apologetic earlier this year when he visited with supporters back home and pointed out that he didn’t vote for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March that would flood their local governments with federal aid.
Now, McConnell and other Republicans seem eager to vote in favor of injecting another $1 trillion into long-term infrastructure investments that proponents say will boost the economy years into the future.
The White House launched a video campaign in June to highlight Kentucky’s crumbling infrastructure, drawing attention to substandard drinking water infrastructure in Martin County.
And White House officials on Wednesday circulated a document highlighting that Kentucky would receive $4.6 billion for highway construction and $438 million for bridge replacements from the pending bill.
McConnell encouraged moderate Republicans who negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure bill with the White House by telling them he was keeping an open mind through the process.
He gave the legislation another boost this month by telling GOP colleagues they should consider it separately from the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that Democrats say they will pass later this year to complete Biden’s infrastructure agenda.
That advice, however, contrasts with efforts by other Republicans to link the pending bipartisan package to the larger “human infrastructure” bill.
“In fact, the bills are not completely separate,” Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) said on the Senate floor Thursday. “It would be nice if they are, but they are not.
“And the reason they are not separate … is because Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has made it abundantly clear that any bipartisan infrastructure bill that is passed here in this Senate won’t see the light of day in the House of Representatives unless and until, as she has said, the Senate also sends her a multitrillion-dollar, reckless tax-and-spending bill.”