June 30, 2022

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Biden, senators will meet to firm up tentative infrastructure deal

A bipartisan group of senators has agreed on a nearly $1-trillion infrastructure framework to present to President Biden on Thursday, the culmination of months of negotiation over a proposal to fortify the nation’s roads, bridges and broadband internet access.

The group of senators reached a tentative agreement with White House aides Wednesday evening after two days of meetings on Capitol Hill.

The plan calls for $559 billion in new spending, with the rest of the funds coming from reappropriated pots of money. It’s down from the $579 billion agreed to in an earlier framework after the lawmakers agreed to repurpose $20 billion in broadband money.

The deal, if successfully enacted, would mark the first major bipartisan legislative accomplishment for Biden, who campaigned on his ability to work across the aisle with Republicans. This agreement would cover only a fraction of what Biden originally called for: $4 trillion to invest in so-called “hard” infrastructure of roads and bridges, alongside “human” infrastructure, such as childcare and eldercare programs.

Neither senators nor the White House released other details on what would be funded by the plan — or how it would be paid for, the primary sticking point throughout weeks of talks.

Both sides have said in recent weeks the other’s proposed funding plans crossed a red line for them. Republicans refused to consider Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate, which the GOP lowered to 21% in 2017. And the White House has hammered Republicans for suggesting new infrastructure investments be funded by raising the gas tax and imposing new fees on drivers of electric vehicles, even dubbing it a “Ford F-150 tax” in reference to the company’s new heavy-duty truck model that runs on electric power.

At the White House on Wednesday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden would meet with the group of senators only if talks progressed between them and the senior administration officials who spent the day on the Hill.

Hours later, after both sides agreed on the framework of a proposal, Biden invited lawmakers to meet with him at the White House on Thursday morning. The meeting is scheduled for 11:45 a.m.

Significant hurdles remain, and the clock is ticking. Progressive Democrats long ago grew tired of the protracted negotiations, warning the White House that Republicans were merely trying to eat up precious legislative time. Several of them have also indicated that they wouldn’t support a bipartisan plan unless it comes with an assurance Democrats would follow it up with a more progressive bill that addresses issues such as immigration, climate and healthcare, which would be approved through a partisan process called reconciliation which circumvents the Senate filibuster.

They have argued that the narrow bipartisan plan doesn’t adequately address the nation’s problems, a feeling that could cost Biden votes. And some are also nervous that the Democratic moderates, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, after helping negotiate the smaller, bipartisan package on infrastructure, could opt not to support the larger, more progressive bill, likely leaving it short of the 50 votes required under reconciliation.

The challenge facing Biden now will be gathering enough Republican and Democratic support to get the deal through the Senate, where he is starting with about two dozen votes. The strategy behind the bipartisan agreement it to get votes from the middle of the Senate; progressive Democrats and conservative Republicans would be the hardest to convince to support a plan. If it gets through the Senate, Biden will then have to convince the more liberal Democratic House to support it, too.

White House officials and congressional Democratic leaders will have a short time frame to gather support for the agreement and get it enacted. In order to win support from progressives, they will have to weave together the two bills simultaneously: the bipartisan plan alongside the partisan bill. Progressives say they won’t give up the leverage in the bipartisan plan without an assurance that moderates will back the partisan measure, a massive investment in workers and families that would include expanded paid family leave, childcare subsidies, free community college, an expansion of Medicare, corporate tax hikes and additional investments in combatting climate change.

“We’re all on the same page: Both tracks, the bipartisan track and the budget reconciliation track, are proceeding at pace, and we hope to have votes on both of them in the House — in the Senate and the House in July,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said late Wednesday after a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and White House officials.

The dual tracks will require some heavy legislative maneuvering, but it has been done before. In 2010, House Democrats made a similar demand of Senate Democrats as they enacted the Affordable Care Act through two pieces of legislation — one approved in normal legislative procedure and a second bill enacted through the reconciliation process.

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