Water bill may open spigot for Biden infrastructure plan

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The Washington Post

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of N.Y., arrives to the chamber ahead of President Joe Biden speaking to a joint session of Congress, Wednesday, April 28, 2021, in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

WASHINGTON – Rarely has a routine water resources bill generated so much political buzz, but as senators hoisted the measure to passage Thursday the bipartisan infrastructure legislation served as a potential template for building consensus around President Joe Biden’s ambitious American Jobs Plan.

The Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 authorizes about $35 billion over five years to improve leaky pipes and upgrade facilities, and is widely supported by lawmakers and their states back home. This time, though, it could be so much more — a building block in Biden's broader $2.3 trillion proposal to invest in roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Senators overwhelmingly approved the measure, 89-2, in what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called "a great example" of what's possible in Congress.

Still, the day after Biden's address to a joint session of Congress outlining his sweeping proposals to reinvest in America infrastructure the path ahead is expected to be long and politically daunting.

With Congress essentially split, and Democrats holding only slim majorities in the House and Senate, Biden and the congressional leaders will soon have to decide how they plan to muscle his priority legislation into law.

The White House is reaching out to Republicans, as Biden courts GOP lawmakers for their input on the package and to win over their votes.

Biden spoke by phone Thursday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., a leader on the water bill who is also working on a Republican alternative to Biden's infrastructure plan.

They had a warm, friendly conversation, reiterating their willingness to negotiate, the White House said. They also discussed having another potential in-person meeting in the near future.