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Where The Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Stands Now

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Progress or regress? Regress or progress? When talking about the infrastructure bill, who knows? The $1 trillion Senate bill is up for a procedural vote today to see how much support it may have. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following it all and joins us. Thanks for being with us.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Always glad to be here.

SIMON: I think we've talked about infrastructure before, haven't we?

SNELL: (Laughter) Just a few times.

SIMON: But maybe we should remind ourselves what infrastructure means.

SNELL: You know, in this case, it's all about traditional infrastructure, basically how Americans physically get around and move goods around. President Biden calls on Republicans and Democrats to find at least some common ground on infrastructure. And this is the result of that. You know, it is a major part of his agenda. And he is right that infrastructure has traditionally been an area where the two parties agree.

Now, in the case of this bill, there was an agreement on about a trillion dollars in spending. About half of that money is new investments, things above and beyond what Congress was already on track to spend. The negotiators focused on funding areas they, you know, all count as infrastructure, so largely stuff that's known as hard infrastructure - roads, bridges, airports, waterways, things like that. It also includes some broadband and some water reserves for drought-prone areas and some electric vehicle funding, but really not a lot else beyond that. A lot of Republicans and Democrats agree that the country does need to spend more money on these kinds of things, but Democrats say the current definition of infrastructure is just lacking.

SIMON: So this vote today isn't exactly about that, is it?

SNELL: No, this is just a procedural vote that's necessary to end debate and move ahead with the legislation. But it really does let us know how much support there is. It's common practice for most legislation to have this kind of procedural vote. It's - we talk about the filibuster a lot. This is kind of where that comes into play. They need at least 60 votes for this bill to clear the Senate and to move forward to a final vote. There was a little bit of a dust-up earlier this week when the Congressional Budget Office released their analysis of the bill. They estimate the legislation would add about $250 billion to the deficit, but supporters more or less dismissed that, saying, you know, CBO didn't count all of the elements that they themselves count.

SIMON: Should we expect a final vote in the coming days?

SNELL: In the coming days, yes. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow. The timing is really kind of unclear in part because senators want to move things along. If they were just going to follow the regular order of things the way that the Senate rules are set up, it could happen sometime on Monday or Tuesday. But senators really want to get this over with, and there might be some sort of an agreement to move things forward.

But after that, we don't really know what's going to happen. Senate Democrats plan to move quickly to a budget resolution that would pave the way for as much as $3.5 trillion in new spending. And the budget rules allow them to do this without the support of any Republicans. And they plan to use a feature of the budget process - we've talked about this before. It's known as reconciliation, and they want to use it to pass more of Biden's goals. But that might take months, largely because they don't agree amongst themselves on how much money they should spend and what should be included. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she won't take up the bipartisan bill that's up today without that legislation.

SIMON: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thanks so much for being there.

SNELL: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.