Senate debate on $3. 5 trillion infrastructure bill enters second day

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WASHINGTON, Aug 11 - Debate on a $3.5 trillion spending blueprint for President Joe Biden's top priorities entered a second day Wednesday in the U.S. Senate where lawmakers sparred over the need for massive spending to fight climate change and poverty.

After months of haggling, the Senate passed a $7 trillion infrastructure bill https: www.reuters.com world us whats-us senate-bipartisan-1 trillion-infrastructure-bill - bill - 2021 - 08 - 03 in a bipartisan vote 68 -- 30, proposing to make the nation's biggest investment in decades in highways, bridges, airports and waterways. Democrats in the Senate then turned to a budget resolution that contains spending instructions for the multi-trillion - dollar follow-up package https: www.reuters.com world us paid-leave - clean energy - preschool-democrats - 35 - trln-plan - 2021-08 '09 - which includes provisions to create universal preschool, affordable housing and climate-friendly technologies.

The bills have been a top priority for Biden, who has attempted to enact legislative changes during a time when his Democratic Party controls both chambers and at where they fear loss of control in the looming 2022 elections.

The Democrats plan to push the package through over the next few months, using a process called budget reconciliation https: www.reuters.com world us-senate reconciliation process - its-not-or - is - way-it-sounds - 2021 - 08 - 10, which allows them to pass legislation with a simple majority vote.

On Tuesday, the Senate began a vote-a-rama, a process that gives senators an opportunity to propose amendments to the budget resolution. On Wednesday morning it continued early. Debate can run for days, unless party leaders agree to a shorter period.

GOP Republicans criticized the proposed $3.5 trillion spending plan. The Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who voted for the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, called his larger proposal radical.

Dozens of Republican senators also signed a pledge not to vote for raising the nation's borrowing capacity when it is exhausted in the autumn in a bid to reduce Democrats' spending plans.

They shouldn't be expecting Republicans to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate their deficit spending, Senator Ron Johnson, who circulated the pledge, told Wall Street Journal.

Failure to increase or suspend the federal debt limit - now at $28.5 trillion - could trigger a shutdown of the federal government or a default in the statutory deficit.

This week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called on Congress to raise the debt limit in bipartisan vote. On Tuesday, Yellen also endorsed moving forward with the larger spending package, saying the $1 trillion infrastructure plan should have a sequel.

On Tuesday, bipartisan House Biden lauded the 19 Republicans who voted for the bipartisan 1 trillion infrastructure measure. I told you, here on this bill, that we can still come together to do important things for the American people. We are very important, he said.

But it is unclear how soon the House will take up the measure, which has a slim Democratic majority.

House Speaker Biden has repeatedly said her chamber would not take up the infrastructure bill or the larger spending package until both are delivered, which will require Democratic leadership to hold its narrow majority in Congress together to get the legislation to Nancy Pelosi's desk.

A leading House Progressive Democrats declared Tuesday that most progressives would not vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes a robust second spending measure. That was in contrast to moderate House Democrats, who want a quick vote on the infrastructure bill.

Polls show that the drive to upgrade America's infrastructure, which has been hammered by senators from both parties over months, is broadly popular with the public. The bill includes $550 billion in previously approved spending, as well as $450 billion in new infrastructure investment.

Once the budget resolution is approved, Democrats will begin crafting the reconciliation package for a vote on passage after they return from their summer break in September.