Bipartisan Infrastructure Group Swells 06/17 06:21
Bipartisan Infrastructure Group Swells 06/17 06:21
A bipartisan senators' group working on a $1 trillion infrastructure
compromise more than doubled in size to 21 members Wednesday, a key threshold
that gives momentum to their effort as President Joe Biden returns from
overseas at a pivotal time for his big legislative priority.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A bipartisan senators' group working on a $1 trillion
infrastructure compromise more than doubled in size to 21 members Wednesday, a
key threshold that gives momentum to their effort as President Joe Biden
returns from overseas at a pivotal time for his big legislative priority.
Biden told reporters he had yet to see the emerging proposal from the group
but remained hopeful a bipartisan agreement could be reached, despite weeks of
on-again, off-again talks over his more robust $1.7 billion American Jobs Plan.
"I'm still hoping we can put together the two bookends here," Biden said as
he prepared to depart Geneva after attending a summit of European leaders.
The administration dispatched top White House advisers for back-to-back
meetings on Capitol Hill while the president was away. Biden and his Democratic
allies in Congress are proceeding on a two-track strategy -- seeking a
bipartisan bill while preparing to go it alone if Republicans try to block the
investments with a filibuster in the Senate.
The administration officials huddled late Wednesday in the Capitol basement
with the Democratic senators in the bipartisan group, grinding through details
of the proposal. On Tuesday, the White House team shored up restless House
Democrats eager for momentum on a shared domestic priority with the president.
Ahead of Wednesday's late afternoon session, the 20 senators issued a joint
statement backing the emerging bipartisan proposal, doubling their ranks in a
show of momentum as Biden is expected to re-engage at home. The list was later
updated to 21.
The number is significant: With 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats the group
for the first time shows the potential for a bipartisan accord that could
theoretically reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, which is now evenly
split 50-50, that's needed to advance bills.
"We support this bipartisan framework that provides an historic investment
in our nation's core infrastructure needs without raising taxes," the senators
said. "We look forward to working with our Republican and Democratic colleagues
to develop legislation based on this framework to address America's critical
At the same time, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer convened a private
meeting of the Democratic senators on the Budget Committee to set the
groundwork for a process that would allow majority passage of the package,
without the need for Republican votes. Initial votes could start in July.
"There was universal agreement we have a lot of things we have to do to help
the American people and we have to have unity to do it," Schumer told reporters
afterward. "Good first meeting."
Biden has proposed a historic investment in U.S. infrastructure, spending
that goes beyond roads and bridges to include efforts to fight climate change
and to shore up what the White House calls the human infrastructure of everyday
life -- child care centers, veterans hospitals, community colleges and elder
Together, the American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families
Plan make up a wish-list of Democratic priorities that most Republicans say are
investments that go far beyond what they are comfortable spending.
As an alternative, the bipartisan group is eyeing a scaled-back nearly $1
trillion proposal that includes about $579 billion in new spending, including
$110 billion on roads and highways, $66 billion on passenger and freight rail
and $48 billion on public transit, according a Republican who requested
anonymity to discuss the package. There's another $47 billion on resiliency
efforts to fight climate change and money for electric vehicle charging
Biden has proposed raising taxes on corporations, from 21% to 28%, to fund
the jobs plan, and increasing taxes on wealthy Americans earning more than
$400,000 for the other investments -- tax hikes Republicans flatly oppose.
Instead, the bipartisan group suggests tapping $120 billion in unspent
COVID-19 relief funds and $315 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program
that was designed to help businesses pay workers during the coronavirus
lockdowns. They also proposed going after tax dodgers by bolstering the
Internal Revenue Service.
One source of contention in the bipartisan group is over a proposal to hike
gas taxes by linking future increases to inflation -- an idea many other
Democrats oppose and that goes against Biden's vow not to tax Americans earning
less than $400,000. The bipartisan group was also eyeing a fee on electric
The bipartisan group includes some of the most watched members of the
Senate, some known for reaching across the aisle or bucking their party to
The Republicans are Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of
Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jerry
Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of
Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Todd Young
On the Democratic side are Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of
New Hampshire, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Mark Kelly of Arizona, Joe
Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of
Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Warner of Virginia and Angus King of
Maine, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
Senators appeared upbeat over the prospect that talks on the two tracks
could progress -- one not precluding the other, as Biden tries to secure a big
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the Budget Committee was unified in putting
together a package that "gives us a latitude to do what we need to do -- we can
shrink it if there's a bipartisan deal, we could do the broader deal if there
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is chairman of the Budget
Committee, told reporters that lawmakers "have an enormous amount of work in
front of us."