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Tester: Infrastructure could advance soon in Senate

Tester optimistic about infrastructure package
Posted at 4:17 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 18:39:00-04

HELENA — U.S. Senate action on a national, bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure package could happen in “short order,” Sen. Jon Tester told reporters Thursday – but its ultimate fate may be tied to action on a separate huge spending plan from Democrats.

“I think that there becomes a problem over on the House side, if in fact we don’t give the reconciliation package an effort to get it across the finish line,” he said. “If it’s blown off and it’s not done, they’re probably gonna not have enough votes to pass the traditional infrastructure (bill).”

The “reconciliation package” is a $3.5 trillion budget plan being pushed by Democratic congressional leaders and the Biden White House, to finance a slew of proposals that include expanding Medicare, combatting climate change and providing more aid to families and children.

Tester, a Democrat who helped negotiate the infrastructure plan, said he hasn’t decided whether to support the reconciliation budget – and, he told Montana reporters that its details are far from complete.

“The $3.5 trillion package is a shell right now,” he said. “It’s too early in the process for me to say this is a good idea or a bad idea. … (But) I’m going to give it a fair shot.”

Montana’s other U.S. senator – Republican Steve Daines – has called the reconciliation plan a “reckless tax-and-spend spree.”

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U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

Daines was among the 37 senators who voted Wednesday evening against advancing the infrastructure bill, which is likely to face additional debate and votes in the Senate in the coming week or so. The Senate voted 62-37 to start debate on the package, with 17 Republicans on board.

Daines said after the vote that he wants more details on how the infrastructure measure will be financed, and that it should not increase the federal deficit “by one cent.”

He also said it should not be a “stepping stone” to passing the budget-reconciliation plan.

Tester said Thursday the infrastructure plan will be financed with a combination of unspent federal Covid-relief money and other changes within the federal budget.

Democrats had wanted to pay for some of it with beefed-up enforcement of tax collections or higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but Republicans wouldn’t agree, Tester said.

The package includes funding for roads, bridges, high-speed Internet networks, airports and water systems and will create thousands of jobs, he said.

He said he remains optimistic that the infrastructure plan can make it out of the Senate fairly soon. But, the Senate probably needs to make a “bona fide” effort to move the reconciliation plan to help the infrastructure bill get through the House, he added.