This May 30 photo shows a view aboard the MV LeConte. The Alaska Marine Highway System is poised to benefit from a massive spending plan with bipartisan backing. The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed the Senate on Tuesday. The bill, a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda, now heads to the House. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Alaska’s senators part of bipartisan push for big bill

Both voted for the ‘historic’ $1T infrastructure plan.

The U.S. Senate passed a massive infrastructure bill Tuesday, and Alaska’s congressional delegation lauded the move as a win for the state.

Both the state’s Republican senators, Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski voted for the bill. Murkowski was one of the bill’s key negotiators. The $1 trillion spending plan now heads to the House.

In a statement shared with the Empire, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, thanked Murkowski and other senate negotiators for keeping the bill’s cost below the $1.25 trillion he suggested in his own infrastructure proposal.

[Murkowski: State’s needs addressed in spending plan]

“I will give this bill a fair hearing and look forward to working on it in the House,” Young said. “As former Chairman and most senior Member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I have a very large platform to advocate for Alaska’s unique needs. As conversations in the House begin in earnest, I want my constituents to know that I will be working hard to ensure that Alaskans are front-and-center in this process.”

Murkowski was one of the senators involved with crafting the infrastructure bill and in a statement said the bill included funding for Alaska’s infrastructure. Under the Senate bill Alaska would receive roughly $3.5 billion over five years for roads and highways; $2.5 billion for port infrastructure and $1 billion for a new program suggested by Murkowski that would establish an essential ferry service to support rural communities.

“This bill is a truly historic investment in our country and state,” Murkowski said in a statement. “We invest in transportation infrastructure that are a lifeline to connecting Alaskan communities — such as our Alaska Marine Highway System, ferries, ports, and small airports.”

In a statement, Sullivan said his vote for the bill was a difficult one, saying he believed more time was needed for refinement.

“I also share the concern of many Alaskans about out-of-control government spending,” Sullivan said. “My focus will continue to be on passing legislation that leads to expanding jobs and opportunities for Alaska small businesses and hard-working families — bills that put people to work — as opposed to bills that pay people not to work.”

Bipartisan backing

Senators approved the plan with a rare coalition of Democrats and Republicans joining to overcome skeptics and deliver a cornerstone of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The 69-30 tally provides momentum for this first phase of Biden’s “Build Back Better” priorities, now headed to the House. A sizable number of lawmakers showed they were willing to set aside partisan pressures, eager to send billions to their states for rebuilding roads, broadband internet, water pipes and the public works systems that underpin much of American life.

Infrastructure was once a mainstay of lawmaking, but the weeks-long slog to strike a compromise showed how hard it has become for Congress to tackle routine legislating, even on shared priorities.

“There’s been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The outline for Biden’s bigger $3.5 trillion package is next up for the Senate — a more liberal undertaking of child care, elder care and other programs that is much more partisan and expected to draw only Democratic support. That debate is expected to extend into the fall.

Tuesday’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act started with a group of 10 senators who seized on Biden’s campaign promise to draft a scaled-down version of his initial $2.3 trillion proposal, one that could more broadly appeal to both parties in the narrowly divided Congress, especially the 50-50 Senate.

It swelled to a 2,700-page bill backed by the president and also business, labor and farm interests. It drew an expansive alliance of senators and a bipartisan group in the House.

In all, 19 Republicans joined all Democrats in voting for Senate passage. Vice President Kamala Harris, as presiding officer, announced the final tally.

While liberal lawmakers said the package doesn’t go far enough as a down-payment on Biden’s priorities and conservatives said it is too costly and should be more fully paid for, the coalition of centrist senators was able to hold. Even broadsides from former President Donald Trump could not bring the bill down.

The measure proposes nearly $550 billion in new spending over five years in addition to current federal authorizations for public works that will reach virtually every corner of the country — a potentially historic expenditure Biden has put on par with the building of the transcontinental railroad or interstate highway system.

There’s money to rebuild roads and bridges, and also to shore up coastlines against climate change, protect public utility systems from cyberattacks and modernize the electric grid. Public transit gets a boost, as do airports and freight rail. Most lead drinking water pipes in America could be replaced.

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator, said the proposals have been talked about for years, yet never seem to get done, including for a bridge across the Ohio River between his state and Kentucky.

“We’ll be getting it right for the American people,” he said.

The top Democratic negotiator, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, said rarely will a piece of legislation affect so many Americans. She gave a nod to the late fellow Arizona Sen. John McCain and said she was trying to follow his example to “reach bipartisan agreements that try to bring the country together.”

Drafted during the COVID-19 crisis, the bill would provide $65 billion for broadband, a provision Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, negotiated because she said the coronavirus pandemic showed that such service “is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.” States will receive money to expand broadband and make it more affordable.

Despite the momentum, action slowed last weekend when Sen. Bill Hagerty, a Tennessee Republican allied with Trump, refused to speed up the process.

Trump had called his one-time Japan ambassador and cheered him on, but it’s unclear if the former president’s views still carry as much sway with most senators. Trump issued fresh complaints hours before Tuesday’s vote. He had tried and failed to pass his own infrastructure bill during his time in the White House.

Other Republican senators objected to the size, scope and financing of the package, particularly concerned after the Congressional Budget Office said it would add $256 billion to deficits over the decade.

Two Republicans, Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana, had been part of initial negotiations shaping the package but ultimately opposed it.

“My efforts to reach a compromise were honest & sincere, & unfortunately, we were unable to arrive at a bill I could support,” Moran said in a tweet.

Rather than pressure his colleagues, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has stayed behind the scenes for much of the bipartisan work. He allowed the voting to proceed, and may benefit from enabling this package in a stroke of bipartisanship while trying to stop Biden’s next big effort. He voted for passage on Tuesday.

Unlike the $3.5 trillion second package, which would be paid for by higher tax rates for corporations and the wealthy, the bipartisan package is to be funded by repurposing other money, including some COVID-19 aid.

The bill’s backers argue that the budget office’s analysis was unable to take into account certain revenue streams that will help offset its costs — including from future economic growth.

Senators have spent the past week processing nearly two dozen amendments, but none substantially changed its framework.

The House is expected to consider both Biden infrastructure packages together, but centrist lawmakers urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the bipartisan plan forward quickly, and they raised concerns about the bigger bill in a sign of the complicated politics still ahead.

After the Senate vote, she declared, “Today is a day of progress … a once in a century opportunity.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire. Associated Press reporting contributed to this article.

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