Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
August 3, 2021

The Senate convened at 10:30 a.m. this morning after overwhelmingly approving the first two amendments to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act late Monday.  Each was noncontroversial and received far more than the 60 votes necessary to be added to the legislation. The amendments dealt with funding for Native American health care facilities and addressing the workforce shortage in the wireless and broadband industry, respectively.  Other amendment votes, particular on the issue of how to pay for the new spending, are expected to be more controversial as the legislation progresses this week into next.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) has repeatedly warned that he was prepared to keep Senators in Washington for as long as it took to complete votes on both the bipartisan infrastructure plan and a budget blueprint that would allow the Senate to begin work later this year on a massive, $3.5 trillion social, health and environmental bill.  Seventeen Republican senators voted last week to begin the debate on the legislation, more than enough to push the compromise package across the finish line, but there’s no guarantee they will also vote in favor of the bill for final passage.  Senate Republican leaders say a lot will depend on the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) assessment of the legislation which has yet to be released.   Right now, Republican leadership predicts the bill’s revenue provisions will cover a little more than half the cost of the overall bill when the CBO’s cautious standards for assessing legislation are applied.  Proponents of the bill say that while the official CBO score may not completely offset the cost of the legislation, they have letters and less-official estimates that will testify to the potential for various revenue sources to significantly reduce the real-world impact on the deficit.  The CBO has not released details on the timing of the CBO “score” for the legislation. Typically, the agency releases such estimates within days, so senators would likely have it in hand before a final vote later this week or next.

For today, the Senate will vote on the Lummis-Kelly amendment #2181, a highway cost allocation study.  Of note, Republican Senator Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) said in a statement that the bill’s proposed tax reporting regime for cryptocurrencies was overly broad and unworkable. He said he plans to offer an amendment to change it.  The text’s definition of a broker is not only too broad, according to Toomey, and affects non-financial services parties, like bitcoin miners, that he said should be exempt. Plus, non-custodial services would struggle to properly file identification forms with the IRS, he said.  Potentially also complicating the process is at least seven senators revealed Monday that they had attended a party with Senator Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina), who announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 after being a guest on West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s (D) “Almost Heaven” house boat.  So far only Senator Graham will miss votes, but that number could increase.  Other senators present at the party included Mark Kelly (D-Arizona), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), John Thune (R-South Dakota), Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), Catherine Cortez Masto ( D-Nevada), and Maria Cantwell D-(Washington).

If the Senate does approve the huge package, it then would move to the House, which on June 10th  approved a $547-billion, multi-sector infrastructure package titled the INVEST in America Act. Among its many provisions, the INVEST bill has a $148-billion general fund infusion for the Highway Trust Fund.  House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), the INVEST bill’s prime architect, was critical about the Senate bipartisan group’s infrastructure framework.

The House remains on a combination of recess and committee work weeks until Monday, September 20th.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.