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Democrats Count On Rare Bipartisan Votes To Pass Infrastructure Measure

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

The Senate is poised to pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill today that Democrats say is just the start. They plan to move quickly from what is a bipartisan victory to an entirely partisan spending plan.

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BERNIE SANDERS: ...In my view, will be the most consequential and comprehensive piece of legislation for working people, for the elderly, for the children, for the sick and for the poor that this body has addressed since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the New Deal in the 1930s.

ELLIOTT: That's Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders. He's leading the push for another $3 1/2 trillion budget framework to advance the bulk of President Biden's domestic agenda - inside it, everything from free pre-K and community college tuition to paid family leave and climate change.

NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is following this and joins us now to give us the update. Good morning, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

ELLIOTT: So remind us. What is in this bipartisan infrastructure package?

SNELL: Negotiators from both parties focused on funding the areas they all agreed counted as infrastructure. And that's largely things that's commonly known as hard infrastructure, so roads, bridges, airports, ports and waterways. But it also includes some broadband and some water reserves for drought-prone areas and things that they refer to as resiliency to climate change, plus some electric vehicle investments.

ELLIOTT: A bipartisan bill feels like a bit of a surprise in this bitter political environment. Does this mean the two parties are doing a better job at finding common ground?

SNELL: On some things - but it's important to remember that this was a huge effort and one that not everyone believed would even happen. Some Democrats criticized President Biden for even trying to get a bipartisan bill that is the fraction of the size of his initial infrastructure proposal. You know, Democrats are still seriously divided on what happens now.

And Republicans aren't all exactly in love with this bill, either. Former President Trump put out a statement calling it the beginning of the Green New Deal. And not every Republican in the Senate is on board.

ELLIOTT: Democrats are already moving on with this $3 1/2 trillion budget bill. How will that fit in?

SNELL: Basically, this is Democrats saying that they need to finish up the work on President Biden's agenda that wasn't going to be included in this bipartisan bill. They say systems of education and the way people care for their families are all important parts of the infrastructure, the way that people are able to work. They say climate change is also part of infrastructure and needs to be addressed. You know, Democrats introduced this $3 1/2 trillion framework because they need to instruct committees to write legislation to spend additional money. And they want to get all of that done by September 15.

So there's a lot of work ahead. But they're using the budget process to pass the spending and deficit-related programs without the threat of a Republican filibuster in the Senate, assuming they can get every Democrat in the Senate to agree to this bill.

ELLIOTT: So what happens next?

SNELL: It's a lot of wait and see. Moderate Democrats are really skeptical of the top-line spending numbers in this reconciliation bill. Three-point-five trillion dollars is a lot of money. There's also some concern that things in the bill, like instructions to add legal immigration, might violate budget rules and might have to be eliminated from the upcoming spending package.

But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't hold a vote on the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes the larger bill. So they will have to work together if they want to get that done. And I'm not expecting either bill to be on Biden's desk immediately.

ELLIOTT: NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.