WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate pushed ahead Monday with consideration of a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, with Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promising to work with opposition Republican lawmakers to hold key votes on specific construction projects across the country.
"Let's start voting on amendments," Schumer told the Senate as it started business for the week. He said a final vote on the legislation could be held "in a matter of days" but vowed to keep the chamber in session until work on the measure is completed - before recessing for the Senate's annual August vacation. "The longer it takes to finish the bill, the longer we will be here."
The package, one of President Joe Biden's top legislative priorities, would provide tens of billions of dollars to repair the country's deteriorating roads and bridges, advance broadband internet service throughout the country, expand rail and transit services and replace lead-piped drinking water systems.
The package was negotiated over several weeks between a centrist group of 10 lawmakers and the White House, but now the remaining 90 members of the Senate will have a chance to offer amendments to the legislation for favored projects in their home states to earmark for funding.
"Infrastructure is exactly the kind of subject that Congress should be able to address across the aisle," Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said of the politically divided chamber, where Republicans and Democrats spar sharply over most issues.
McConnell, over the objections of some Republicans, has agreed to allow debate to proceed but has not said how he will ultimately vote. On Monday, he described the 2,700-page bill as a "good and important jumping off point" for a discussion of the country's infrastructure needs.
The measure was formally introduced at a rare Sunday evening Senate session.
"We know that this has been a long and sometimes difficult process, but we are proud this evening to announce this legislation," said Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat who was a lead negotiator on the package. The bill, she said, showed "we can put aside our own political differences for the good of the country."
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican negotiator, said the final product will be "great for the American people."
Biden has been vocal in his support for the infrastructure, not only for the improvements that would be made across the U.S., but to show voters that major legislation can still be approved in politically fractious Washington.
It includes $550 million in new spending along with $450 billion in previously approved funds.
The package includes $110 billion for roads and bridges, $39 billion for public transit, $66 billion for rail and $55 billion for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, as well as billions for airports, ports, broadband internet and electric vehicle charging stations.
Portman said, "This is a really important bill because it takes our big, aging and outdated infrastructure in this country and modernizes it. That's good for everybody."
If the Senate approves the measure, the House of Representatives would then consider it. Passage appears less certain in the House, where some progressive Democratic lawmakers are complaining that the spending package is too small.
Some material in this report came from the Associated Press.