To use the parlance of President Biden, the Senate’s 69-30 passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package was a big, um, deal. Its price tag and support from 19 Republicans (including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell) is truly something Washington just hasn’t seen in a long time, at least during the McConnell era.
Biden held a White House event Tuesday heralding the vote and talking about what it all means. It wasn’t over the top for him to do so, but then again, if Donald Trump could hold a press conference boasting about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act long before it failed, then the bar is low.
But as that Trump health care press conference reminds us, the Senate vote is just a piece of a puzzle that is a long way from being solved, and may not happen at all.
So let’s break down what this Senate vote means — and what it doesn’t mean.
It means that Biden fulfilled a major campaign promise
During the Democratic primary season, Biden was outright mocked for his promise that if he was elected he could somehow get Senate Republicans, especially McConnell, to work with him to advance priorities on the Democratic agenda.
In the general election, Biden made this bipartisan governing pledge central to his campaign. The idea was that if he got into office, he knew how to pass laws and end all the partisanship that has led to total inaction in Congress.
And here we are. Biden delivered.
Video: Senate passes bipartisan $1 trln infrastructure bill (Reuters)
It means the bipartisan goal of fixing crumbling roads, bridges, and subway lines will be addressed
To be sure, infrastructure is not a solely Democratic priority. Remember, Trump wanted to modernize airports. And in states all around the country — especially in New England — there are deteriorating bridges that politicians identified as a problem for decades, and then shrugged it off.
This money, in theory, will not just make getting around safer and more efficient, but in the process create jobs and boost the economy.
It means that there will be fewer calls to kill the filibuster
While McConnell likely wants to brag about all the new broadband that will come to rural Kentucky, one major reason he likely went along with this bill is that it could slow down momentum for Democrats to kill the Senate filibuster. The filibuster is structurally really good for Republicans and keeping it matters a lot more to McConnell than giving Biden a single talking point about bipartisanship.
It doesn’t mean that suddenly the Senate will start passing all kinds of bills
Yes, there was this really interesting coalition of moderate Senators who met for months and forged both trust and compromise with Democrats. Yes, it could mean that this same group comes together to pass other items, but it is hard to say that for now. Those in that room were particularly interested in infrastructure and the next infrastructure provisions are included in a huge $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that will likely only pass on party lines, if it does at all.
It doesn’t mean that the bill will pass the House or become law
The bill now goes to the US House where it is anyone’s guess if it will pass, or how it might be amended. Democrats there only have the slimmest of a majority and at the moment the moderates and the progressive wing of the party are already at odds about the order in which the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill will come up for a vote.
All eyes are on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There will be huge pressure not to amend the bill because it means it will have to go through the Senate again.
It doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t have talking points against the plan
While Biden and many other Democrats are happy about this vote, it is not as though Republicans won’t be able to make it an issue in the midterm elections. Most Senate Republicans did vote against the bill after all, and even though those who supported it can still find ways to complain about how the Biden administration carried out the plan, by calling it inefficient or with some perceived spending scandal.