WASHINGTON — Florida’s two U.S. senators voted against a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill on Tuesday, rejecting a carefully negotiated agreement crafted during marathon meetings on Capitol Hill between Democrats and Republicans.
Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio voted “no” on the package, which passed the U.S. Senate on a 69-30 vote. The bill now heads to the U.S. House. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged not to bring the bipartisan legislation for a vote until passing a $3.5 trillion spending plan that Republicans uniformly oppose.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult, because the Democrats want to spend all the money, but they don’t want to take responsibility for the debt,” Scott said of efforts to pass two massive bills by the end of the year.
Both senators tried and failed to include amendments to the legislation. Only one amendment, a proposal from Scott that would prevent the bill’s funds from being allocated if the Congressional Budget Office determines that the package would cause inflation, received a vote. It failed 42-55, with five Republicans voting against Scott’s amendment.
Other amendments from Rubio and Scott that would have provided $5 billion for Everglades restoration, permanent Daylight Savings Time and cutting federal mass transit funds for municipalities that reduced their police budgets did not receive a vote.
“I support investing in roads, bridges, broadband, and efforts to mitigate against sea level rise, and I hoped there would be a bill I could vote for,” Rubio said in a statement. “But this bill was negotiated in secret, rushed through the process without meaningful opportunities to have input, and adds a net increase ... to the national debt. I can’t vote for a bill like that.”
Scott signaled a week ago that he was planning to vote against the bill, which was negotiated by a group of 20 senators evenly split between both parties with the approval of President Joe Biden.
“We were promised this infrastructure bill was fully paid for, and now we see that it’s not,” Scott said in a statement with a group of Republican senators last week. “Let’s not forget, this is just the first step in the Democrats’ plan to pass their $5.5 trillion tax and spend liberal wish list. We support infrastructure, but it has to be paid for. This proposal isn’t it.”
The bill in its current form puts $110 billion into roads, bridges and other major projects, $66 billion into passenger and freight rail, $65 billion into broadband, $55 billion into water systems and $39 billion into public transit, among other spending.
The White House estimates that the bill would send $13 billion to Florida for highway projects and $245 million for bridge replacement projects over the next five years. It also estimates that Florida would receive $2.6 billion for public transportation, $198 million to expand electric vehicle charging networks across the state and a minimum of $100 million to expand broadband access.
“It’s long-term spending to repair and replace and build assets that will last for decades. In doing so, it does make life better for people,” Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, the bill’s lead GOP negotiator, said before the vote.
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Last week, the Congressional Budget Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress that provides economic and budget information, determined that the infrastructure bill will add $256 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade. The analysis did not include any potential revenue boosts from economic growth associated with the bill.
Rubio and Scott joined a majority of their Republican colleagues who are up for reelection next year to vote against the bill. The legislation, which only required a majority vote on Tuesday after the Senate met the 60-vote filibuster threshold last month, passed with 19 Republican votes, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Former President Donald Trump railed against the bill in recent days, attempting to drum up GOP opposition to the plan at the last minute. A few Republican senators, including some involved in negotiations, announced their intentions to vote against the agreement minutes before final passage, though Scott and Rubio were consistent in their opposition.
“The average Republican voter does not want to see waste,” Scott said. “They’re sick and tired of debt, they’re sick and tired of government waste.”
Neither Scott nor Rubio were part of the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations.
Rubio will likely face Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings as he seeks a third term in 2022. Scott leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the body responsible for electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate. A host of prominent Senate candidates in contested 2022 GOP primaries said they oppose the infrastructure bill.
Both Rubio and Scott could explore presidential runs in 2024.
Cuba internet amendment passes
After passing the infrastructure bill, the Senate immediately began debate on a budget process that would allow the $3.5 trillion spending bill to pass without Republican support. The process, called reconciliation, was passed on a 50-49 vote by 48 Senate Democrats and two independents on Tuesday afternoon.
The budget bill allows individual senators to propose unlimited amendments, which the Senate votes on in a marathon, all-night session until everyone agrees to stop.
As part of that process, Rubio and Scott offered an amendment to establish a fund that builds internet technology in Cuba after historic pro-democracy protests last month.
“This would allow us to pursue how we can provide unfettered internet access to the people of Cuba,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “It’s something that I understand has broad support in this chamber, even in the administration.”
Their amendment was ultimately passed without a recorded vote, meaning no one opposed the plan. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, a prominent supporter of the U.S.-Cuba embargo, and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a longtime opponent of the embargo, both said they supported Rubio and Scott’s amendment.
“The Biden administration is in the midst of trying to find out what is the greatest technological ability to create internet access for the people of Cuba without the limiting ability of the regime to jam that internet access,” Menendez said. “So this reserve fund would be in good order and in line with what the administration is seeking to do as well.”
Once amendment votes end, the next step in Democrats’ legislative maneuvering, which could unravel if just one Democratic senator is absent, is now in the House of Representatives. Pelosi will attempt to pass the $3.5 trillion plan with a slim majority before passing the infrastructure bill.
“I think we’ll be united on the $3 trillion monstrosity,” Rubio said of congressional Republicans.