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“We have a deal”: Biden announces bipartisan compromise on infrastructure

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President Joe Biden threw his support behind an infrastructure proposal negotiated by a bipartisan group of senators, boosting momentum for the deal even as congressional leadership also presses forward with a larger bill addressing the more ambitious aspects of the president’s agenda.

“We have a deal,” Mr. Biden told reporters outside the White House after a meeting with the 11 senators of both parties who had negotiated the package. “We made serious compromises on both ends.”

The deal is a victory for Mr. Biden, who spent nearly 40 years in the Senate before becoming vice president and has positioned himself as a dealmaker who is able to work with both sides of the aisle. But the proposal may have a rocky path to passage, as several progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate have expressed displeasure about the exclusion of provisions related to climate change, child care, health care and education.

Mr. Biden told reporters later on Thursday that Congress would move forward with the bipartisan bill “swiftly and in tandem” with a reconciliation bill that will include his priorities on “human” infrastructure, such as child care and health care. A reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority to pass, meaning that it can be approved without any Republican support, although with the 50-50 split in the Senate, all of the Senate Democrats would have to agree to it.

“We have to move and we have to move fast, and this agreement signals to the world that we can function, deliver and do significant things,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m not going to rest until both get to my desk.”

The president said that he would not sign the bipartisan bill unless the larger reconciliation bill also passes.

“If this is the only one that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” Mr. Biden said.

The bipartisan proposal would cost roughly $1 trillion, with $579 billion in new spending. The group of 21 senators initially announced their agreement on a proposal last week but still differ on how the measure would be funded. They then declared on Wednesday evening that they had reached an agreement on a “framework,” including pay-fors, which is what the team presented to Mr. Biden on Thursday.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we came up with a good compromise that’s going to help the American people,” GOP Senator Rob Portman told reporters after the meeting with Mr. Biden.

Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema said the deal counters the notion that “bipartisanship is dead in Washington,” but instead “shows that when a group of people who are committed with shared values to solving the problems and challenges our country faces, we can use bipartisanship to solve these challenges.”

The bill will be narrowly focused on “traditional” infrastructure priorities such as roads, bridges, improving railways and expanding broadband. The proposal would spend $312 billion total for transportation, including $109 billion for roads, bridges and major projects, $49 billion for public transportation and $66 billion for passenger and freight rail. It also dedicates smaller amounts to safety, airports, ports and waterways, electric buses and transit, and electric vehicle infrastructure, a priority for Mr. Biden.

The proposal also includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure, $55 billion for water infrastructure, $73 billion for power infrastructure, and $47 billion for resiliency, which GOP Senator Bill Cassidy said “will be essential as we address our changing environment.” There are also some monies for western water storage and environmental remediation.

According to a White House fact sheet, some of the funding will come from redirecting unused unemployment insurance relief funds and other unused monies from the most recent coronavirus stimulus bill, which Mr. Biden initially opposed. Other pay-fors include allowing states to sell or purchase unused toll credits, extending expiring customs user fees, 5G auctions proceedings, the strategic petroleum reserve sale, and public-private partnerships.

The White House fact sheet suggested that parts of the bill will pay for itself, citing “macroeconomic impact of infrastructure investment” as a pay-for. Some funding will also come from tax gap enforcement, which Democratic Senator Mark Warner said would net around $100 billion in revenue.

Although 21 senators have signed onto this bipartisan measure, it will need the support of 60 senators to advance to a full vote on the Senate floor. Several Democrats expressed skepticism about the bipartisan deal earlier on Thursday, insisting that it must be paired with a reconciliation bill.

“Way too small. Paltry. Pathetic. It has to be combined with a second much more robust, adequate package to be deserving a vote,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal said.

Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters “we are not leaving childcare behind, we are not leaving home health care behind, we are not leaving the green energy changes that we need to save our planet behind, and we are not going to make America’s middle class families pay for this package.”

“We need assurances from all 50 people in our caucus that we have a deal and it is not just a deal on numbers. It is a deal on what gets covered,” Warren said.

The reconciliation bill, which is being crafted by Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders, is expected to include provisions like Medicare expansion, as well as the remainder of Mr. Biden’s $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan and his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan not covered in the bipartisan proposal. Sanders signaled to reporters that he was open to supporting the bipartisan bill, although he said he needed to see the details of it first.

“What is in the bipartisan bill, as I understand that in terms of what they are trying to do, is important. There’s no disagreement that we need money to rebuild our roads, and our bridges and water systems, wastewater plants, broadband — all of that is good,” Sanders said. “Our job right now is to continue working on a major bill, which addresses the crises of working families.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday that the Senate will “concurrently” take up the bipartisan deal and a large budget reconciliation bill, which would only require 50 votes to move forward, to address Mr. Biden’s other infrastructure priorities.

“I look forward to holding the first votes when we return for the July work period,” Schumer said.

Schumer said later on Thursday that the agreement between Mr. Biden and the bipartisan group was a “good step forward.”

“Everyone in our caucus knows you can’t do one without the other. You don’t even have the votes for one, unless you have the votes for the other. But today’s action makes me more confident than ever that at the end of this process, we will see the boldest, strongest legislation that this country has seen in decades,” the Senate majority leader said.

However, a reconciliation bill would require the support of all 50 Democrats. Senator Joe Manchin, one of the lead negotiators of the bipartisan deal, would not commit to supporting a reconciliation bill on Thursday, citing concerns about its hefty price tag. He told reporters that he needed to see what was in the reconciliation bill before he could make any commitments.

“I know what’s in this plan, and we have the responsibility and obligation to make sure that all the Congress on both sides know what’s in this plan. To say that one’s being held hostage, that doesn’t seem to be fair to me,” Manchin said.

Manchin later acknowledged that “reconciliation is inevitable.”

“There’s going to be a reconciliation bill, we just don’t know what size it’s going to be,” he said.

Although the reconciliation bill was initially estimated to be around $6 trillion, the final number could be lower, as some of it will be covered by the bipartisan deal.

“If the bipartisan bill is passed, we’re certainly not going to build the same bridge twice so we can deduct some of what they have passed from from the reconciliation,” Sanders told reporters.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted Thursday that the House will not take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes both that measure and the larger reconciliation bill.

“We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill,” Pelosi said during her weekly press conference.

Warner addressed concerns that the deal could fall apart as Congress is under pressure to pass both a reconciliation bill and the bipartisan bill, saying that “until it’s signed by the president, anything can happen.” But he said the president’s support provides a significant boost.

“This is a indication to the world that bipartisanship still is alive and well in the United States,” Warner said.

Jack Turman contributed to this report.


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