WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — With a robust vote after weeks of fits and starts, the Senate approved a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan on Tuesday, a rare coalition of Democrats and Republicans joining to overcome skeptics and deliver a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda.
The 69-30 tally provides momentum for this first phase of Biden’s “Build Back Better” priorities, now headed to the House. A sizable number of lawmakers showed they were willing to set aside partisan pressures, eager to send billions to their states for rebuilding roads, broadband internet, water pipes and the public works systems that underpin much of American life.
Tuesday's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act started with a group of 10 senators who seized on Biden’s campaign promise to draft a scaled-down version of his initial $2.3 trillion proposal, one that could more broadly appeal to both parties in the narrowly divided Congress, especially the 50-50 Senate.
It swelled to a 2,700-page bill backed by the president and also business, labor and farm interests. It drew an expansive alliance of senators and a bipartisan group in the House.
Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King were involved in package negotiations voted to pass the legislation Tuesday, and afterward touted how the bill will impact Maine.
Collins, a Republican who was part of that core group of 10 bipartisan senators who negotiated the text of the legislation, focused on the funding for highways and bridges, and worked with N.H. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on an agreement to fund and deploy high-speed internet to unserved and underserved areas.
Drafted during the COVID-19 crisis, the bill would provide $65 billion for broadband, a provision Collins negotiated because she said the coronavirus pandemic showed that such service “is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.” States will receive money to expand broadband and make it more affordable.
“After months of working night and day, our bipartisan negotiations resulted in a truly transformational package for our country that would make the most significant investment in American infrastructure since the establishment of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s,” Collins said in part following the vote. “[…] The infrastructure package is good for America and represents a far too rare example of the two parties working together to produce results for the American people. The House should work quickly to pass it.”
In an interview via Zoom with NEWS CENTER Maine's Hannah Dineen following Tuesday's vote, King said he's happy for two reasons. One, "it's a great bill," he said, and "it's going to mean a lot to the country and to Maine."
King said Maine will see over $2 billion in funding over five years through the bill, which will invest in highways, bridges, transit, and broadband, which King said is "the big one" for him.
Throughout negotiations, King emphasized the importance of the “transformational” $65 billion investment in broadband infrastructure. King’s office said the investment is “the most comprehensive broadband legislation ever proposed by Congress,” and includes over $40 billion in block grants to states, mirroring King and Sens. Michael Bennet and Rob Portman’s bipartisan BRIDGE Act, which was introduced earlier this year.
The other thing King said he is happy about is the 69-30 vote tally.
"That's a solidly bipartisan bill," he said. "[...] This shows that we're able to get things done down here—that democracy actually can work every now and then. And I think it's a real tribute to the people that negotiated the bill, to leaders on both sides in both parties, the White House was directly involved … This is the way things are supposed to work."
Watch the full interview with King here:
Collins echoed those sentiments in a video interview with NEWS CENTER Maine's Sam Rogers on Tuesday, saying the bipartisan vote "shows that we can work together on an important project."
"This achievement shows that we can overcome the hyper-partisanship that has led to political gridlock too often in Washington," Collins said. "It shows that we can work together and negotiate a package among ourselves, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, but also with the administration and I think that's important."
Collins went on to say the infrastructure package is "certainly one of the most satisfying and one of the biggest accomplishments" of hers in her time in Washington, putting the package alongside legislation she's spearheaded such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"I'm just delighted because [the infrastructure package] is going to deliver much-needed concrete benefits to our state in terms of providing broadband to rural areas that lack it now, to some of our island communities, it's going to create jobs, it’s going to help the economy, and it's going to save drivers a lot in vehicle repairs that they have to make every time they go and smash into a pothole and damage their car or truck," Collins said.
The outline for Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package is next up for the Senate — a more liberal undertaking of child care, elder care, and other programs that is much more partisan and expected to draw only Democratic support. That debate is expected to extend into the fall.
The House is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages together, but centrist lawmakers urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the bipartisan plan forward quickly, and they raised concerns about the bigger bill in a sign of the complicated politics still ahead.
Collins predicts that the $3.5 trillion package "will break down on party lines," but said she hopes "that we can get the House to pass the infrastructure package quickly and send it to the president's desk, and then we'll certainly be looking for other issues where we can forge a bipartisan consensus."
"The bill still must pass the House, which is why I’ve led multiple efforts in the last few weeks calling on the Speaker of the House to schedule a vote without delay," Democratic Rep. Jared Golden said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine. "This bill should go to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.”
Watch the full interview with Collins here:
Collins’ full statement:
“By a strong, bipartisan vote of 69 to 30, the Senate has passed our landmark infrastructure package that would provide concrete benefits for American families as well as our economy by making historic investments in our nation’s roads, bridges, airports, seaports, rail, water treatment systems, and broadband.
Earlier this year, I joined a group of 10 Senators—five Republicans and five Democrats—who were determined to break through the partisan gridlock and pass this long-overdue infrastructure investment for the American people. After months of working night and day, our bipartisan negotiations resulted in a truly transformational package for our country that would make the most significant investment in American infrastructure since the establishment of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.
One of the many provisions that would have a significant impact on Maine is the $65 billion investment for broadband, which would expand high-speed Internet access to rural and unserved areas of our state. I negotiated this section of the bill with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), along with our colleagues and the Administration. It has become increasingly clear in recent years – and especially in light of the pandemic – that broadband is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
The infrastructure package is good for America and represents a far too rare example of the two parties working together to produce results for the American people. The House should work quickly to pass it.”
King’s full statement:
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is nothing short of historic. After intensive negotiations and lengthy bipartisan discussions, I am proud to say that we have crafted a bill that will bring immense benefits to the people of Maine and Americans across the country.
There are a lot of victories worth celebrating in this bill, but I believe that the legislation’s $65 billion for broadband infrastructure is far and away the most transformative provision. The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of an affordable, high-speed broadband connection for Americans trying to pursue an education, work remotely, access healthcare, or stay connected to loved ones. But for too long, rural communities and low-income people have been left behind and denied these opportunities. Just as rural electrification did in the 30s, these broadband investments will help connect every American to the infrastructure that powers modern life and help ensure that communities across the nation are able to fully engage in the 21st-century economy.
I’m particularly grateful that over $40 billion of these funds reflect my bipartisan BRIDGE Act, which allocates money directly to states so they can utilize the resources in the way that best suits local needs to close the digital divide– meaning Maine is likely to receive close to $300 million to improve connectivity through high-speed, future-proof broadband infrastructure, in addition to the more than $120 million already coming through the American Rescue Plan.
While the broadband provisions are the most transformational part of this bill – or of any bill I’ve ever voted on, for that matter – they are far from the only wins worth celebrating. The bill includes $110 billion in funding for roads, bridges, and major projects – including $40 billion for bridges, which will make a major difference in Maine, given that 58% of the state’s bridges are over 50 years old. There’s much, much more – including $55 billion to support clean drinking water and address PFAS contamination, $20 billion for airports of all sizes, allowing terminals from Portland to Presque Isle to access needed funds, and nearly $17 billion to strengthen the nation’s port infrastructure.
Critically, this legislation also acts on what I view as America’s two biggest national security imperatives by confronting climate change and bolstering America’s cybersecurity. The legislation invests $65 billion in the nation’s grid and power systems to increase reliability and boost clean energy technologies, puts more than $47 billion into resiliency to address cybersecurity risks and the impacts of climate change, and strengthens federal agencies charged with defending America in cyberspace. The nation will be safer because of this bill.
It’s nearly impossible to capture just how monumental this legislation is, and the amount of good it will do for Maine people. The work isn’t done, but it’s worth pausing to recognize what we just accomplished: a bipartisan bill passed through the Senate to deliver on America’s most vital infrastructure needs. I’m extremely proud to have played a part in this bill – and ready to keep pushing so we can get this legislation over the finish line.”