By Richard Cowan and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a $1 trillion infrastructure package that is a top priority for U.S. President Joe Biden, a bipartisan victory that could provide the nation’s biggest investment in decades in roads, bridges, airports and waterways.
The vote was 69-30 in the 100-seat chamber, with 19 Republicans voting yes. Immediately after that vote concluded, Senators pushed ahead with a follow-up $3.5 trillion spending package that Democrats plan to pass without Republican votes.
Polls show that the drive to upgrade America’s infrastructure, hammered out over months by a bipartisan group of senators over months of negotiations, is broadly popular with the public.
The bill still has to go to the House of Representatives and the spirit of cooperation in Congress that led to Tuesday’s vote will likely prove fleeting.
“Big news, folks: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal has officially passed the Senate,” Biden said on Twitter on Tuesday. “I hope Congress will send it to my desk as soon as possible so we can continue our work of building back better.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer expects also to have the votes to pass the budget resolution laying the groundwork for $3.5 trillion to be spent on healthcare, climate change and other Biden priorities that Democrats will almost certainly have to pass over Republican objections in a maneuver known as “budget reconciliation.”
“When the Senate is run with an open hand rather than a closed fist senators can accomplish big things,” Schumer said shortly before the voting began.
Once that resolution is adopted, Democrats will begin crafting the reconciliation package for a vote on passage after they return from their summer break in September.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said repeatedly that her chamber will not take up either bill until she has both in hand, meaning that months of work remain before Tuesday’s measure would go to Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
“The House will continue to work with the Senate to ensure that our priorities for the people are included in the final infrastructure and reconciliation packages,” Pelosi said after the vote.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said the infrastructure bill would increase federal budget deficits by $256 billion over 10 years — an assessment rejected by negotiators who said the CBO was undercounting how much revenue it would generate.
After working for two consecutive weekends on the infrastructure bill, a “vote-a-rama” session that could run late into the evening will be in store for the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who voted for the infrastructure bill, signaled that Republicans would try to use the voting sessions to pick off support from moderate Democrats for what he called a “radical” larger spending package that would create a permanent welfare state and usher in the largest peacetime tax hike in U.S. history.
“Every single senator will be going on record over and over and over,” McConnell added. “We will debate, and we will vote, and we will stand up, and we will be counted, and the people of this country will know exactly which senators fought for them.”
The budget plan would provide various Senate committees with top-line spending levels for a wide range of federal initiatives, including helping the elderly get home healthcare and more families afford early childhood education.
It also would provide tuition-free community college and foster major investments in programs to significantly reduce carbon emissions blamed for climate change.
Later, Senate committees would have to fill in the details for scores of federal programs.
The budget blueprint was formally unveiled on Monday, the same day a U.N. climate panel warned that global warming was reaching emergency levels, or what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described as a “code red for humanity.”
Senate passage of the infrastructure bill and the budget plan would clear the way for it to begin a month-long summer break.
When Congress returns in September, it will not only debate the large investment measures but have to fund government activities for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1, increase Washington’s borrowing authority and possibly try to pass a voting reform bill.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)