WASHINGTON (CN) — Democrats racing to vote on the massive Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act unveiled only the night before strode Monday into some quicksand from Republicans less worried about the timeline.
"Senators expect and deserve opportunities to have a say and have their own state’s imprints on this major bill," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the floor today. "Just as infrastructure is not a luxury, the same goes for the Senate having a robust democratic process on legislation of this magnitude. Full consideration shouldn’t be choked off by artificial timetables that our Democratic colleagues may have penciled out for political purposes.”
The Senate finally unveiled the 2,702-page bill late Sunday after legislating in a rare weekend session over the finer points of sourcing huge pools of funding for the nation’s roads, bridges, waterways, its aging power grid and more. Typically, the August recess stretches right up to Labor Day in the first week of September. The House of Representatives is already on recess, and the Senate is expected to follow next week.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was eager to get the first hurdle cleared late Monday night, saying the longer it would take to finish the bill, the longer lawmakers would be on Capitol Hill this week.
But as promised, the first tranche of what is expected to be a battery of forthcoming amendments were delivered to the floor.
The first amendment, approved 90-7, was sponsored by California Senator Alex Padilla and Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, who are a Democrat and Republican, respectively.
The amendment proposes to expand funding authority for renovations of facilities under the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
Currently, American Indian or Native American tribes that fall under health care services provided by a group known as the Urban Indian Organization are not allotted full authority to tap funding to improve their facilities. This problem has been exacerbated, the senators argue, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the National Council on Urban Indian Health, while the entire Indian Health Service system in America was forced — at least on paper — to bring its services up to the challenge of Covid-19, including arranging for critical telehealth services, Urban Indian Organizations were not empowered to do the same because of a section under existing budgetary rules that only allow for “minor” renovations or improvements to UIH facilities.
Padilla-Moran’s amendment would both strike “minor” from the text, and would remove language from the Indian Health Care Act mandating these groups first meet criteria set by The Joint Commission, the nation’s largest nonprofit accrediting body for health care.
The amendment enjoyed wide bipartisan support and comes at a time when, according to Padilla, 86% of Urban Indian Organizations need to make major upgrades to their infectious disease wards, ventilation systems and electronic records systems.
Another amendment approved Monday night, 95-1 was introduced by Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota and Senator Jon Tester of Montana, a Democrat.
The lawmakers' amendment, they argue, would strengthen workforce protections for laborers in the telecommunications industry. It proposes setting up an interagency work group within 60 days of the bill’s passage that would identify how to better facilitate workers who are pioneering the deployment of 5G wireless and broadband.
For example, safety standards for tower climbers would be improved and it would also assess "federal incentives" or rewards for colleges, universities and private businesses.
Sitting on the interagency task force, according to the amendment, would be a representative appointed by the secretary of Education, a representative from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and officials from entities tapped by the secretary of Labor.