Biden teases 'infrastructure decade' as US Senate passes $1tn bill

Package includes funding for major projects such as improving roads and faces uphill battle in House

US President Joe Biden answers questions from reporters as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on in the East Room of the White House in Washington, on August 10, 2021.  Reuters
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A $1.2 trillion infrastructure package that is a top priority for US President Joe Biden passed the Senate on Tuesday, marking a much-needed win for the White House and the bipartisan group of senators who spent months negotiating it.

The package, described by the White House as “historic”, only needed a simple majority to pass and received the rare backing of several Republicans.

"We're on the cusp of an infrastructure decade that I truly believe will transform America," Mr Biden said in remarks from the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill's 69-30 tally provides momentum for this first phase of Mr Biden’s “Build Back Better” priorities, now headed to the House of Representatives.

"Today we moved one step closer to making a once-in-a-generation investment in our infrastructure," Vice President Kamala Harris said.

A sizeable number of politicians showed they were willing to set aside partisan pressures, eager to send billions to their states for rebuilding roads, high-speed internet, water pipes and the public works systems that underpin much of American life.

"This bill shows that we can work together," Mr Biden said of the rare bipartisanship that occurred to get this bill passed in the Senate.

“Today we proved that democracy can still work," he said.

While the bill is popular among many members of Congress, it faces new challenges when it goes to the House amid tension within the majority-holding Democratic Party, some of whose progressive members say it does not go far enough.

Democrats hope to have more of their priorities approved through a separate, $3.5tn package. It only requires 50 votes and includes money for childcare, elder care and other programmes, though it is much more partisan and expected to draw only Democratic support.

Infrastructure was once a mainstay of lawmaking, but the weeks-long slog to strike a compromise showed how hard it has become for Congress to tackle routine legislating, even on shared priorities.

“There’s been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Mr Biden welcomed the Senate's approval of the bill and urged the House to follow suit.

“I hope Congress will send it to my desk as soon as possible so we can continue our work of building back better,” he said.

Mr Biden has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks over a wide range of issues, including a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant, mixed messaging on mask use and an increase in migrants heading to the US-Mexico border.

The measure proposes about $550 billion in new spending over five years in addition to current federal authorisations for public works that will reach virtually every corner of the country — a potentially historic expenditure Mr Biden has put on par with the building of the transcontinental railway or the interstate motorway system.

There is money to rebuild roads and bridges, and also to shore up coastlines against climate change, protect public utility systems from cyber attacks and modernise the electrical grid. Public transit would receive a boost, as would airports and freight rail. Most lead drinking water pipes in America could also be replaced.

Biden highlights road safety in infrastructure plan: 'I lost a wife and daughter'

Biden highlights road safety in infrastructure plan: 'I lost a wife and daughter'

While liberal members of Congress said the package does not go far enough as a down-payment on Mr Biden’s priorities and conservatives said it is too costly, the coalition of centrist senators was able to hold. Even broadsides from former president Donald Trump could not bring the bill down.

“This infrastructure bill is not the perfect bill,” said Lisa Murkowski, a Republican senator from Alaska, one of the negotiators.

She said the senators kept at it, believing “it’s better to get some of what our constituents want rather than none of it".

News agencies contributed to this report

Updated: August 10, 2021, 8:51 PM