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Bipartisan group of senators reaches agreement on infrastructure framework

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Washington — A group of bipartisan senators announced an agreement on a framework for an infrastructure proposal, as the White House and congressional Democrats pursue two tracks in passing President Biden’s multi-trillion dollar plan.

The group of 21 senators, 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans, previously reached an agreement on an infrastructure proposal costing roughly $1 trillion, with $579 billion in new spending — although the proposal did not include details about funding. Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a lead negotiator, told reporters on Wednesday evening that negotiators have “agreed to a framework” that they will present to the White House tomorrow.

“We’ve agreed on a framework on the entire package and we’re going to go to the White House,” Romney said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said late Wednesday that they would be moving forward with the bipartisan deal and with budget reconciliation, which would only require 50 votes to move forward. While Schumer said they hope to vote on them in July, he acknowledged the budget process would likely take longer. He said the goal is to have the first vote that sets the topline numbers before the August recess.

“One can’t be done without the other,” Schumer said Wednesday. “All of us agree to that. We can’t get the bipartisan bill done unless we’re sure of getting the budget reconciliation bill done. We can’t get the budget reconciliation bill done unless we’re sure of the bipartisan, and I think our members, you know, across the spectrum, realize that. Our Democratic members.”    

Pelosi clarified that “whatever is in the bipartisan bill would then be subtracted from what we do next when we go to reconciliation.” 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that “the group made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement,” and Mr. Biden has “invited the group to come to the White House tomorrow to discuss this in person.”

Democratic Senator Mark Warner told reporters that this was a “much sturdier framework” than the deal agreed to last week. He also said that the framework includes pay-fors agreed upon by both parties.

Republican Senator Rob Portman told reporters that “we’re going to now do the outreach.”

“It is important to grow the vote from the middle out,” Portman said.

The new framework comes after White House legislative team met with this group of senators twice on Wednesday. Senators are facing a time crunch in their negotiations, as the Senate has a two-week recess beginning next week, leaving only a few days for them to reach a deal.

“I think we all feel really strongly have to have a deal before we leave tomorrow,” Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, one of the key negotiators, told reporters on Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are also set to meet with White House officials on Wednesday.

Mr. Biden has rejected the Republican suggestion of indexing the gas tax to inflation, while GOP senators remain staunchly opposed to the president’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate.

The bipartisan proposal would be narrowly focused on “traditional” infrastructure priorities such as roads, bridges, funding transportation and expanding broadband, with some spending on electric vehicle charging stations, a priority for Mr. Biden. It is still significantly smaller than Mr. Biden’s $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan, and does not include priorities from his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

Republican Senator John Thune, the minority whip, told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday that the White House appeared to reject some options for pay-fors during the meeting with senators, such as an infrastructure bank. But Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, a lead negotiator, told reporters that the potential disagreement over an infrastructure bank was “a little bit more nuanced than that.”

Thune appeared more optimistic after another meeting of the bipartisan group on Wednesday.

“I think they felt better today than they did yesterday,” he said.

The White House has also floated tax gap enforcement as a potential source of funding, although there is some disagreement over how much revenue that would yield. A report by the Congressional Budget Office found that $40 billion in enforcement spending could net $63 billion in revenue.

Republicans have suggested using unspent funds from previous coronavirus relief packages, but this has largely been rejected by the White House.

Meanwhile, Democratic congressional leaders are also moving forward with a larger package to address Mr. Biden’s more ambitious goals related to climate change and “human” infrastructure, such as child care, education and health care. As a large bill including those aspects is unlikely to garner any Republican support, Democrats are preparing a budget resolution, the first step in the budget reconciliation process, which would allow the legislation to pass with a simple majority.

Schumer and Pelosi are expected to discuss both the bipartisan proposal and reconciliation with White House officials, a source familiar with the matter told CBS News. The reconciliation bill, assembled by Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, could be as large as $6 trillion, and is expected to include provisions like Medicare expansion, as well as the remainder of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan not covered in the bipartisan proposal.

Jack Turman contributed reporting.


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