Bipartisan infrastructure negotiations have hit another roadblock, as Senate Democrats continue to work on a backup plan for President Biden’s biggest legislative priority.
CNN, Bloomberg and Politico were among the outlets reporting that a number of sticking points were outstanding, after Republicans rejected a compromise proposal from the White House and Democratic negotiators. The two sides remain at an impasse on a number of different issues, including funding for highways versus public transit, questions over broadband internet access and how the bill would be financed.
Earlier this month, negotiators from both parties had said they expected this week to deliver the text of the legislation with its final details hammered out. That deadline now seems in peril ahead of the scheduled Aug. 9 recess, when lawmakers are due to return home.
Democrats are continuing to attempt a two-track process to appease the ideological breadth of their party. The bipartisan bill that members of both parties have been negotiating for weeks in order to get moderates on board now appears to be in question. That bill would require 60 votes to move forward in the Senate, meaning that at least 10 Republicans would have to support it.
The second part of the process would deliver on many of President Biden’s campaign promises and White House priorities, while appeasing the party’s progressives. A $3.5 trillion bill that included a number of climate measures would then be passed in the Senate through reconciliation, which would require 50 Democratic votes. With just 50 members of the caucus, any single Democratic senator or independent who decided not to align with the Democrats could sink the bill, meaning that it must win the approval both of progressives like Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont and of moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed her position that she would not take up the bipartisan bill until the reconciliation bill had also passed. She said she was rooting for the infrastructure bill to pass and congratulated Biden and the negotiators on their work, but laid out why the second bill was necessary.
“We say build back better with women,” Pelosi said. “That's why we need childcare. That’s why we need home health care funding. That’s why we need family and medical leave. So, building the human infrastructure is really a part of building the physical infrastructure. So that’s why we will have something further to add. The deal is not as green as I would like it to be, the infrastructure bill … but nonetheless, I hope it will pass.”
If the bipartisan deal were to fall apart, Democrats would still have the option of folding everything into one reconciliation bill, passed with just their 50 votes along partisan lines, as they did with the COVID-19 relief package in March. While Manchin has repeatedly stated he wants a bipartisan bill, he’s also said he supports adding additional pieces through reconciliation. The West Virginia Democrat made similar calls for a bipartisan deal prior to the pandemic relief plan, but went along with his Democratic colleagues in passing it.
Last week, Sanders projected confidence that Democrats would be unified on the two-step infrastructure approach.
“I can’t give you an exact timeline, but I think that we are going to have every Democratic senator on board,” Sanders told Politico. “At the end of the day ... the $600 billion in physical infrastructure, you can do it in the bipartisan bill, or you can combine it with one bill. One way or another, it’s going to happen.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., a member of the budget committee, added, “If for some reason the bipartisan version doesn’t work out, then we ought to be looking at a reconciliation bill that’s at $4.1 trillion.”
Despite those statements, it’s not certain all 50 moderate senators would be involved with folding everything into one package. Given the thin margin in the House, a small group Democrats of any ideological perspective could also unite to block the bill.
Progressives have urged the White House to move forward without Republicans, arguing that the GOP is trying to run out the clock. The current bipartisan negotiations are the second version to take place this year, after the White House called off talks with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in June, because the two sides were too far apart. Capito’s offer was hundreds of billions lower than Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion proposal, and after weeks of attempting to find common ground, the White House scuttled further discussion.
“[Biden] offered his gratitude to her for her efforts and good faith conversations, but expressed his disappointment that, while he was willing to reduce his plan by more than $1 trillion, the Republican group had increased their proposed new investments by only $150 billion,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“After negotiating in good faith and making significant progress to move closer to what the president wanted, I am disappointed by his decision,” Capito, who had been empowered to negotiate on behalf of the Republican caucus by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said in her own statement.
In another potential wrench, former President Donald Trump weighed in on the negotiations Monday, saying that Senate Republicans are being “absolutely savaged by Democrats” and accusing McConnell of “agreeing to almost anything.” In May, McConnell said his focus was on “stopping” the Biden agenda.
During the 202 presidential campaign, Biden pitched his ability to work across the aisle. As president-elect, Biden told grassroots activists in December that they were “going to be surprised” by how Republicans would come around once Trump was out of office.
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