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Senate Passes $35 Billion Water Bill, but Bigger Infrastructure Fights Loom

The lopsided vote was a reminder that bipartisan cooperation on public works projects is possible, but lawmakers in both parties said the spirit of compromise could be fleeting.The legislation approved on Thursday would authorize funding to clean up the nation’s water systems.

Erin Kirkland for The New York Times

By Emily Cochrane

April 29, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a $35 billion measure to clean up the nation’s water systems, offering a brief moment of bipartisan cooperation amid deep divisions between the two parties over President Biden’s much larger ambitions for a multitrillion-dollar infrastructure package.

Republicans and Democrats alike hailed passage of the bill on an 89-to-2 vote as evidence that bipartisan compromise is possible on infrastructure initiatives, but lawmakers in both parties suggested that the spirit of deal-making could be fleeting.

Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders have said they want Republican support for a broad infrastructure package that aims to improve the nation’s aging public works system and address economic and racial inequities, after pushing a nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill into law with just Democratic votes. But Republicans have panned those proposals, which are to be financed with tax increases on high earners and corporations, and Democrats have said they may have to move them unilaterally if no compromise can be reached.

“We’re trying to work in a bipartisan way whenever we can — and this bill is a classic example,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, said of the water bill. “It doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to do the whole thing bipartisan, but we’ll do as much as we can.”


The legislation approved on Thursday would authorize funding to shore up the nation’s water systems, particularly in rural and tribal communities that have long been neglected and suffer from poor sanitation and unclean drinking water. A House Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said House committees had their own substantial proposals and looked forward to negotiations.

“I don’t want to overplay it, but I think it’s definitely a major positive,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, said of the lopsided vote on the water infrastructure bill, which she helped spearhead. Yet Ms. Capito cautioned that the moment of cooperation might not last long if negotiations faltered.

Republicans have “made it clear that we don’t see the definition of infrastructure — physical core infrastructure — the same way” that Mr. Biden does, she said. The two spoke on Thursday afternoon in what the White House described as a friendly conversation in which both sides reiterated a desire to negotiate.

In his speech before a joint session on Congress on Wednesday, Mr. Biden applauded an infrastructure counteroffer put forward by Senate Republicans and called on lawmakers to “get to work.” Ms. Capito and other Republicans have been in touch with the White House over their $568 billion framework for roads, bridges, airports, ports and broadband.

But that plan, which Republicans have said is the largest infrastructure proposal they have offered, is a fraction of the spending Mr. Biden outlined, even before he unveiled a $1.8 trillion plan for investing in workers, child care and schools on Wednesday. It notably excluded all of Mr. Biden’s suggestions for how to pay for the spending — including tax increases on corporations — and did not provide clear alternatives.




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