It took longer than it should have, but the U.S. Senate proved Tuesday it still can do big, important things.
By a 69-30 vote, the Senate approved a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that now will go to the House of Representatives. (About $550 billion of this is new funding.)
With a Democrat in the White House, the Senate has usually been a place where the president's priorities go to die. But not this time. The work of roughly 10 senators from each party, along with the White House, stitched together an investment plan that will boost spending on things like bridges, transit, broadband, waterways and airports — the very things Americans in both parties have said for years they wanted Congress to fix.
It's not a done deal yet, but Senate approval was a major hurdle.
In Iowa, the investment is badly needed on aging bridges. For years, the state has ranked among the worst in the country for the share of its bridges in poor condition. In a 2021 report, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association said 19% of the state's bridges (nearly 4,600 altogether) were in poor condition.
We've known for years this was a problem; now, there's a chance to do something about it. The legislation the Senate passed Tuesday includes $110 billion for bridges and roads.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who voted for the bill, said, "Iowans have raised infrastructure concerns at nearly all of the 85 county meetings I’ve held so far this year, whether it be about roads and bridges, access to broadband or the locks and dams on the Mississippi River. ... This bipartisan bill fixes potholes, rebuilds bridges, upgrades water systems and brings broadband to rural corners of our state. Investing in Iowa’s infrastructure will pay dividends for decades to come."
Grassley, along with Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., voted for the bill. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, voted against it.
We are sorry this legislation didn't have the full support of our delegation, but there was bipartisan support, and this shouldn't be lost on anyone. In itself, it is a major accomplishment. And it's an accomplisgment many had lost belief was still possible in our hyper-polarized political environment.
It happened because Republicans and Democrats in both parties decided to work together on something big and important, no matter the voices in their parties urging them to do otherwise.
It also was possible because there was a president, Joe Biden, who made it a priority to do something big, even if it meant compromising with the other party.
Biden insisted that this be a bipartisan bill, and he delivered on the promises he made all the way back before the Iowa caucuses — that he would govern as a get-things-done Democrat.
This bill is much smaller than Biden initially proposed, and it doesn't include the tax increases he initially wanted. Much of it is paid for by repurposing COVID-19 funding. Unfortunately, it also will add $256 billion to the debt over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That is disappointing, but we believe these investments in America's infrastructure will achieve a long-term good.
As Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., pointed out, this bill will invest billions in clean water, including $15 billion for lead water line replacement, as well as $5 billion for small and disadvantaged communities to deal with lesser known contaminants, such as PFAS. This help is especially needed in Illinois, a state with more lead water lines than any other.
As we pointed out a couple weeks ago, this plan also raises the possibility that long-delayed investments in our lock and dam system might move forward.
The infrastructure plan now goes to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, and where one might think, it would be assured of passage. However, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and progressive Democrats are demanding the Senate pass a $3.5 trillion social spending package before it will act on the infrastructure bill.
That battle has yet to be settled, but after years of watching the Senate stand in the way of practically every initiative of the last Democrat to occupy the White House, it would be quite the turnabout to see a Democrat-controlled House be the roadblock to this legislation.