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As the bipartisan infrastructure bill advances, what happens now?

The outcome is not in doubt: the bipartisan infrastructure bill will pass the Senate. And then what? I'm glad you asked.


Though it was difficult to predict in the spring, there's no longer any doubt that the Senate will pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill, perhaps as early as today. Politico reported overnight:

President Joe Biden's bipartisan infrastructure deal cleared its final serious Senate hurdle Sunday night, putting the legislation on a glide path to passage as soon as late Monday. In a 68-29 vote, the Senate closed down debate on a bill negotiated by a bipartisan group of 10 senators that spends $550 billion in new money on the nation's physical infrastructure. Sunday's vote came after senators spent the weekend haggling over amendments and time agreements to consider them.

The full roll call on last night's vote is online here. Note, every member of the Senate Democratic conference supported the legislation, as did 18 Senate Republicans -- including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The next step in the process is final passage -- which will be a simple majority-rule vote -- which could come as early as today. That said, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) has done everything he can to drag out the process, and he might push that vote until tomorrow morning, simply because it's within his power to do so.

Regardless, the outcome is not in doubt: this bill will pass the Senate. And then what?

Broadly speaking, there are two things to focus on. The first is the bill's prospects in the House, where there are some progressive Democrats who haven't been shy about criticizing the bipartisan package. For many senators, the hope has been that the Democratic-led House would simply rubber-stamp the bill and move on. That's easier said than done.

Some of the relevant details remain unresolved, including how many House Republicans might be willing to support the Senate proposal and the extent to which that will affect the progressives' leverage. Either way, it's important to keep in mind that if the House were to change so much as a comma in the bipartisan agreement, it would have to go back to the Senate for another vote before reaching the White House -- and the more changes the House makes, the more challenging another vote in the Senate could become.

The other relevant angle is the companion measure that Democrats intend to pass through the budget reconciliation process, which would circumvent a GOP filibuster. NBC News reported this morning:

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told Senate Democrats on Monday that once the chamber passes the bipartisan infrastructure package this week, they will "immediately move" to pass a budget resolution that will allow their party to craft a $3.5 trillion social safety net bill.... The budget resolution that Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to bring to the floor will provide reconciliation instructions to a group of committees that will each be responsible for writing parts of the bill.

We'll explore this process in more detail as it moves forward, but in the short term, the plan is to advance a budget resolution this week, which would make it possible to work on the larger $3.5 trillion package. Senate Democrats unveiled a blueprint today on what the package could entail, but it's the starting point for future talks.

Of course, even passing the resolution -- which cannot be filibustered -- is messy. The Senate will hold 50 hours of debate, divided equally between the parties, which will culminate in something called a "vote-a-rama" -- a silly name for an exasperating process in which, thanks to arcane budget rules, senators push non-binding votes on a great many politicized amendments.

Once that's done, the Senate will likely take its summer break -- which was supposed to begin today -- during which Democrats in both chambers will work on what will and will not be included in a final package.

Without that package, House leaders have said they won't pass the bipartisan infrastructure plan that's poised to clear the Senate.

Anyone assuming this process will result in grand success is probably making a mistake. Watch this space.

Postscript: For his part, Donald Trump has been increasingly hysterical in his condemnations of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and over the weekend, the former president condemned the bill as "a disgrace" for reasons he did not explain.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who's retiring at the end of next year and who helped negotiate the bipartisan deal, has tried to suggest -- both in the media and on the Senate floor -- that Trump deserves some modicum of credit for the bill.

That's genuinely hilarious, though the implicit recommendation is clear: Portman is effectively telling the former president, "Stop attacking the agreement and start pretending it was your idea."