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 
infrastructure challenges."

   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 
care.

   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 
stations.

   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 
vehicle users.

   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 
strike deals.

   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 
of Indiana.

   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 
legislative achievement.

   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 
isn't."

   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."

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