Senate passes $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, but there are still hurdles ahead

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North Carolina Construction News staff writer

With bipartisan support, and over the objections of former President Donald Trump, the US Senate has passed a long-awaited and sweeping, $1 trillion infrastructure bill.

The legislation that cleared the Senate on Aug. 10 now needs to be approved by the House of Representatives. About 100 Progressive Caucus legislators have said they won’t vote on it until the Senate passes a separate and ambitious $3.5 trillion social policy bill this fall.

This will be a challenging hurdle. While the Democrats can push through the massive social policy bill without Republican support through a budget reconciliation process, they cannot afford to lose even one vote there.

Major construction trade groups have expressed support for the infrastructure legislation – but have called for it to proceed to the House and be passed without waiting for the social policy bill.

The legislation would be the largest infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, touching nearly every facet of the American economy and fortifying the nation’s response to the warming of the planet, The New York Times reported.

It will pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the repair of aging public works projects, and provide historic levels of funding to modernize the nation’s power grid. As well, it will fund projects to manage climate risks.

Nineteen Republican senators, including the party’s leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voted in favor, resulting in 69-30 vote of support.

Former President Trump had broadcast what the NY Times described as “increasingly shrill efforts” to derail the law.

But he didn’t succeed.

“This is what it looks like when elected leaders take a step toward healing our country’s divisions rather than feeding those very divisions,” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and a key negotiator, said before the bill’s passage.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, promised “it will be a lasting bipartisan achievement to help the people we represent — it’s going to improve the lives of all Americans.”

“This infrastructure package contains the most significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure in a generation and could yield crucial wins for the American people and construction industry,” said Michael Bellaman, president and CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), which advocates for non-union (merit shop) contractors.

“It is promising to see progress made toward modernizing our nation’s roads, bridges, water infrastructure, transit, railways, ports and other critical infrastructure,” Bellman said in a statement. “This bipartisan accomplishment is something that has eluded Congress for decades and is proof of the possibilities when lawmakers choose compromise over conflict.

“Commonsense provisions in this bill will cut down on unnecessary delays in federal construction projects and help address the workforce shortage in the construction industry,” he said. “Importantly, the bill is paid for without raising job-killing taxes on our nation’s small construction businesses.”

“However, the bill’s expansion of prevailing wage and support for misleading ‘buy American’ and ‘local hire’ requirements could impact the ultimate success of the legislation,” said Bellaman. “President Biden and his administration must refrain from partisan favoritism in awarding contracts and commit to ensuring all of America’s construction industry can participate in the important work of modernizing the nation’s infrastructure.”

The Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America called for the House to take up the legislation immediately and not tie it to the social policy legislation.

“The new infrastructure measure passed by the Senate today provides much-needed new federal investments in a wide range of infrastructure projects,” said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. These investments will help generate new demand for construction services, equipment, and materials. More important, the new investments will create high-paying construction career opportunities and help make our economy more efficient and competitive.

“Unfortunately, some members of the House want to delay action on the bipartisan measure until passing an unrelated, partisan, spending bill,” Sandherr said. “The last thing Washington should do is hold a much-needed, bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage to partisan politics. Delaying action on the infrastructure measure will hurt the economy and deny workers opportunities to start high-paying construction careers. It is time to put people back to work instead of paying them to stay home. That is why we are urging the House to quickly pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill and send it to the President for signature.”

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