The Senate overwhelmingly approved a $35 billion bill to upgrade the nation’s water infrastructure, signaling that it is possible for senators to reach a bipartisan consensus even as they remain divided over President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. The legislation, which passed by a vote of 89 to 2, now goes to the House.
The legislation was spearheaded by Democratic Senator Tom Carper and Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The bill would improve the nation’s aging water and wastewater infrastructure, support programs to provide safe drinking water and set aside grant funding for poor, rural and tribal communities that have struggled with poor water quality.
In a statement applauding the passage of the bill, Carper said that the legislation “gets to the heart of President Biden’s message to our nation last night,” referring to the president’s address before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, when he urged lawmakers to come together to pass a comprehensive infrastructure package.
“We need to work across the aisle to find lasting, bipartisan solutions to the issues facing the American people, and by doing so, build a better future for all. I’m proud that our committee has led the charge in that effort by today’s Senate passage of the first infrastructure bill of this Congress,” Carper said.
Mr. Biden’s proposal would allocate billions upgrading water infrastructure, but Republicans argue that too many of its provisions are unrelated to traditional concepts of infrastructure. The president is also trying to couple his infrastructure plan with a proposal focused on health care, child care, and education — upwards of $4 trillion in investments.
Capito led a Republican effort to offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, introducing their own $538 billion framework last week. But some Democrats felt the offer doesn’t go far enough. In his speech Wednesday night, Mr. Biden said that he was willing to work with Republicans, but that inaction isn’t an option.
In the meantime, the passage of the water infrastructure bill is a small victory for bipartisanship in an evenly divided Senate. In a statement of support for the legislation last week, the Office of Management Budget said that the bill was a “good start.”
“This legislation aligns with the administration’s goals to upgrade and modernize aging infrastructure, improve the health of children and small and disadvantaged communities, develop new technologies, and help address cybersecurity threats and mitigate dangers from climate change,” the OMB statement said.