GRAND FORKS — The U.S. Senate voted to take up a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on Wednesday evening, July 28, ushering a key item on President Joe Biden’s agenda into a more formal stage of debate.
The 67-32 vote doesn’t approve any spending, but shows in theory that the two major parties have enough common ground to make a landmark spending deal. That possibility had wavered this summer, especially when an earlier version of the infrastructure proposal was shot down July 21 in the Senate by a Republican filibuster.
Since that vote, high-level negotiations on the infrastructure deal have continued. And on Wednesday evening, 17 Republican senators joined Democrats to advance the measure. Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer, both R-N.D., were among them.
“I did get some information this morning, I saw an outline, some text, asked some tough questions of the negotiators and I’m comfortable at this point voting yes on the motion to proceed to the measure,” Cramer said at a Wednesday news conference. “... That investment to the supply side actually pushes against inflation, and it’s wildly popular with the American public.”
Cramer noted that he’s by no means committed to vote for the bill in later stages of the process, as did Hoeven.
“As I’ve said throughout the negotiations, there is broad support for a targeted infrastructure package to update our traditional infrastructure, but we must find responsible ways to pay for the legislation,” Hoeven said in a statement. “As debate gets underway on this legislation, these are the factors that will determine whether or not I support final passage.”
It’s hard to tell precisely what’s in the package, because the bill is still being written and negotiations and debate are expected to continue for weeks. But the New York Times, citing a White House official, reported this week that the package includes $110 billion for “roads, bridges and major projects,” $65 billion for “broadband” and $46 billion for “droughts, wildfires, flooding and other consequences of climate change.” The bill stands to be the federal government’s biggest public works expenditure in at least 10 years.
North Dakota’s local leaders will likely watch negotiations closely. Federal funding for infrastructure projects has for years been a big point of interest in cities like Grand Forks, Fargo and beyond. And all of North Dakota’s members of Congress signed on to a July 27 letter to the USDA asking for assistance amid excessive heat and drought.
The vote also was a political victory of sorts for Biden — if a potentially short-lived one — allowing him to burnish the bipartisan, deal-making image that he campaigned upon.
“Neither side got everything they wanted in this deal,” Biden said in a White House statement. “But that’s what it means to compromise and forge consensus — the heart of democracy. As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home. There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way.”