Bipartisan infrastructure negotiations face progressive backlash in Congress

·Senior Writer
·5 min read
U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) (L) and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) speak on infrastructure and climate protection at the U.S. Capitol on June 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. The two Senators spoke on the need to include green jobs and climate protection in the ongoing infrastructure negotiations.  (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., left, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., speak on infrastructure and climate protection on Tuesday. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Congressional Democrats are still split on how to proceed with President Biden’s infrastructure plan, with left-leaning members threatening to torpedo any bipartisan agreement that doesn’t address progressive priorities.

After the White House called off negotiations with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., last week because the two sides could not find common ground on a dollar amount for the package, attention turned to a bipartisan group of senators including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

The particulars of their $1.2 trillion proposal are still murky, but some of the reporting on what the deal might look like has earned scorn from more liberal Democrats. It’s also not certain that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would have every Democrat in the chamber onboard if they went with the process of reconciliation, which could allow for passage of a bill with all 50 Democratic votes.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., has called for Democrats to ditch bipartisan talks and move on with the process of reconciliation. Jayapal is chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus, whose members have said they might not support a bipartisan bill if it doesn’t include provisions related to climate change.

The House progressives have been joined by some Democratic senators, with Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., telling reporters Monday night he’s a "no" on the bipartisan bill as he works on the reconciliation process in his role as Senate Budget Committee chairman. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., held a press conference Tuesday morning where they said they’d oppose any package that didn’t include major climate policies.

“I want to commend their disciplined leadership for giving Democratic senators a chance to work in bipartisan fashion. That’s the way the Senate should operate,” Markey said of Biden and Schumer.

“But, my friends, it’s time for us to put on that classic song by Fleetwood Mac; it’s time for us to ‘Go Our Own Way.’ This is as clear as day: no climate, no deal. We need to move forward with 50 Democratic votes now that the Republicans have shown us they’re not serious about creating clean energy jobs, jump-starting a clean energy revolution or adding the standards and investment we need to attack this crisis.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is surrounded by reporters as he leaves the Senate chamber following a vote, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 10, 2021. Sen. Manchin is working with a bipartisan group of 10 senators negotiating an infrastructure deal with President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is working with a bipartisan group of 10 senators negotiating an infrastructure deal with President Biden. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The Senate is set to leave town on June 24 for recess, with another break set for August, which is contributing to the current time crunch. Following a meeting with White House officials, a number of top House Democrats said there was a deadline of seven to 10 days to wrap up infrastructure talks, in line with a June 24 departure. Sticking points in the negotiations range from how to pay for the package, and the total size of it, to whether it will include the funding for care workers and climate programs that Biden initially proposed.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said Tuesday morning that the White House had told him and his colleagues that it was giving the bipartisan negotiations on a large infrastructure package seven to 10 more days. Biden rolled out his American Jobs Plan at the end of March, which was followed by negotiations in an attempt to appease Democratic moderates who wanted a bipartisan approach.

After a number of representatives expressed a similar interpretation of the meeting with White House counsel Steve Ricchetti, the administration told Bloomberg it disputed the idea of a hard deadline. Yarmuth said he was assuming everything would end up being done through reconciliation, but added, "That doesn't preclude a bipartisan agreement. If one happens, we just take that part out of the instructions. But right now, we're assuming everything will be in.”

Other Democrats are drawing red lines of their own on any potential package. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Tuesday that she wouldn’t support a package that didn’t contain funding to build electric-vehicle charging stations. If there is no bipartisan agreement, any single Democratic senator or a small bloc in the House could kill the legislation, meaning negotiators would have to appease nearly every legislator in the caucus.

House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., pauses for reporters after meeting with the House Democratic Caucus and Biden administration officials to discuss progress on an infrastructure bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky, on Tuesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Democratic leaders have suggested they can manage a two-track approach: Pass the bipartisan bill, and then move a separate piece of legislation containing priorities supported only by Democrats through the reconciliation process. It’s an attempt to give moderates a win while still passing the bulk of Biden’s original proposal, but will require collecting assurances from across the Democratic caucus and at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to pass the first, bipartisan bill.

Manchin declined to agree with that path on Monday evening, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said she would not support breaking the legislation into two bills.

“The bipartisan negotiations have so far yielded a framework that’s completely inadequate,” Warren said. “I can’t support any infrastructure package that does not include child care, clean energy and requiring the rich and powerful to pay a fair share to get this done. It has to be one deal, not two deals."

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month that his focus was on stopping the Biden agenda, Politico reported Monday that Republicans may support the smaller bill, a move that could fracture Democrats and cause Biden to fall short on many of his stated goals. Republican whip John Thune of South Dakota predicted “substantial Republican support” for the bipartisan plan while predicting that Democrats would be unable to unify behind a more progressive follow-up bill.

“It’ll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that,” Thune said of passing a second, broader bill. “The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation — in some ways, with certain Democrats — it gets a lot harder.”


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