Senate Could Pass a $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Bill This Week, Even Though There’s No Agreement on How To Pay for It

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Before the end of the week, the Senate may pass a trillion-dollar infrastructure spending bill, or the bipartisan effort to do so might completely unravel. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) has called for a procedural vote on Wednesday to open debate on the infrastructure bill. It’s a political gambit meant to apply pressure to Republican senators who agreed to support a smaller version of the $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden outlined in March, but that agreement now appears to be on thin ice.

“We shouldn’t have an arbitrary deadline of Wednesday,” Sen. Rob Portman (R–Ohio), who has led Republican negotiations over the infrastructure bill, told CNN on Sunday. As things stand right now, Schumer is “not going to get 60,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R–S.D.) tells Politico—referring to the number of votes necessary to invoke cloture and foreclose the possibility of a Republican filibuster of the bill.

One major problem with voting to move the legislation along on Wednesday is that senators are unlikely to know what’s in the final version of the bill until Thursday at the earliest.

Another stumbling block is a disagreement over how to pay for the $579 billion in new spending that’s proposed as part of the overall $1.2 trillion package—roughly half of which would be covered by repurposing already-approved funds. The bipartisan agreement struck last month calls for beefing up IRS enforcement in order to close the so-called “tax gap,” which are federal taxes owed but not paid, and raise $100 billion in new revenue. But some Republicans are (quite understandably) unhappy about the idea of expanding the federal tax cops’ power, The Washington Post reports.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are also hoping to pass a $3.5 trillion budget plan before the end of the week. It’s likely to move forward without any Republican support via the reconciliation process that allows a simple Senate majority to make changes to existing laws governing taxes and spending.

The two things could end up colliding, at least in part. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, suggested on Monday that parts of the infrastructure package could get rolled into the reconciliation bill if the bipartisan agreement falls apart. But even some of his fellow Democrats now seem to be hoping that it does.

It all adds up to another sadly typical example of how big-ticket items make their way through Congress, where the rules are mostly made up and the deficits don’t matter. Voting for a bill before we know what’s in it? Of course! Agreeing to spend money before we know how we’ll pay for it? Naturally!

Much of the discourse surrounding the impending success or collapse of the infrastructure bill will focus on what it means for Biden’s promise that he could bring both sides together to, in his words, do big things. But this week is really a test of how aggressively the Senate Democrats are willing to ram through yet another huge spending bill.


FREE MINDS

The opening of strip clubs correlates with a drop in the number of sex crimes that occur in the same neighborhood, according to a new study published in Oxford University’s The Economic Journal: 


FREE MARKETS

Using tariffs to curb global carbon emissions, as Senate Democrats have proposed doing as part of a $3.5 trillion budget plan, is “a political gimmick, not a real response to climate change,” writes The Washington Post‘s Megan McArdle:

Taxing imports that are carbon-intensive to produce sounds like an easy way to introduce better incentives, especially for developing countries eager to emulate China’s coal-fueled economic boom. Unfortunately, carbon tariffs are a political gimmick that won’t solve the real problems they ostensibly address, and might well introduce new ones. …

If you want a laser focus on controlling costs and appealing to consumers, it’s probably not going to come from government, which always has priorities other than maximum value for money. Case in point: carbon tariffs, which aren’t just difficult to implement without domestic carbon pricing, but exactly backward, if we’re trying to decarbonize the globe. Industries protected by tariffs tend to be less efficient than their competitors, and “less efficient than competitors” is hardly a model that will appeal to developing countries.

Say it with me: Tariffs not only impose immense economic costs but also fail to achieve their primary policy aims and foster political dysfunction along the way.


QUICK HITS

• Amazon founder Jeff Bezos blasted into space this morning aboard a rocket built by his own spaceflight company, Blue Origin. It was the first manned suborbital flight in human history with an all-civilian crew.

• Paul Hodgkins, a 38-year-old Florida man, was sentenced to eight months in prison on Monday for his role in the January 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. Hodgkins is the first person convicted of a felony related to the riots to be sentenced.

• So-called “stablecoins,” a type of cryptocurrency that is pegged to a traditional currency or basket of assets, are being eyed by the U.S. Treasury for additional regulations.

• With COVID-19 cases rising among the unvaccinated, Fox News’ Sean Hannity makes an impassioned plea for his audience to get the shot:

• Canada will allow vaccinated Americans to cross the border starting August 9. The Biden administration has yet to announce when it will reciprocate.

• Former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied to Congress about the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. But he won’t be prosecuted for it, natch.

• The Olympics are scheduled to begin on Friday, but some American athletes—including gymnast Kara Eaker and basketball player Katie Lou Samuelson—have tested positive for COVID-19 and may not be able to participate. There have been at least 67 recent positive tests among the more than 11,000 athletes expected to gather in Tokyo for the games.


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