WASHINGTON: Senators and the White House were locked in intense negotiations Tuesday to salvage a bipartisan infrastructure deal, with pressure from all parties to wrap up talks and show progress on President Joe Biden’s top priority.
Despite weeks of closed-door discussions, senators from the bipartisan group passed the deadline set Monday for a deal on the nearly $ 1 trillion package. They ran into serious hurdles about how much would be spent on public transportation and water infrastructure and whether new spending on roads, bridges, broadband and other projects would be necessary to meet federal wage requirements for workers. They also disagree on using Covid-19 funds to help pay for it.
Republican negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who took the lead in key conversations with a top White House aide, insisted the bipartisan group was “making progress.” Biden adopted an equally optimistic tone, telling reporters at the White House that he remained optimistic about reaching a compromise.
But as the talks drag on, eager Democrats, who have little control of the House and Senate, face a timeline for action on what would be one of the most substantial laws in years. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., told senators Tuesday that they should be prepared to work through the weekend to finish the bill.
Biden met Tuesday morning with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, one of the Democratic leaders in the infrastructure negotiation, at the White House to discuss the talks, said two people who acknowledged the session only on condition of anonymity.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after the president’s meeting with Sinema: “They are very aligned on the way forward.”
Psaki said the administration “is not setting any new deadlines” for a deal, but sees “good signs.”
The White House wants a bipartisan deal for this first phase, before Democrats go it alone to address broader priorities in a larger $ 3.5 trillion budget plan that’s on the deck. A recent Associated Press-NORC poll found that 8 in 10 Americans favor increased spending on infrastructure, and the current package could be a political victory for all parties as lawmakers try to show voters that Washington can work. Securing the bipartisan bill is also important to some centrist Democrats before participating in the broader enterprise.
The House will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the legislation if it passes the Senate.
In a private meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday, the chairman of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee called the infrastructure measure that senators from both parties are fighting to complete “bullshit,” according to two. Democrats who attended the session. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, said the Senate effort was being led by “three Republicans”: Portman, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sinema, D-Arizona, a centrist some Democrats distrust.
DeFazio’s comments illustrated tensions between Democrats in both houses over the budget talks. Democrats spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door session.
The bipartisan package includes about $ 600 billion in new spending on public works projects, with broad Republican and Democratic support for many of the proposed ideas.
However, there was little to show on Monday after a grueling weekend of talks, putting the deal at risk of stalling.
Democrats and the White House had sent what they called a “blanket” offer to Republicans on the outstanding issues Sunday night, according to a Democratic aide close to the talks, and granted anonymity to discuss them.
But Republicans rejected the ideas, saying the new proposal was intended to reopen issues that had already been resolved, according to a GOP aide who also granted anonymity to discuss the talks.
Collins said it’s time for Biden to get more involved. “I think it is imperative that the president strongly indicates that he wants a bipartisan package,” he said.
While much of the disagreement has centered on the size of spending in each category, labor issues have also emerged as a flash point.
Democrats insist on a prevailing wage requirement, not just for existing public works programs, but also for the construction of new roads, bridges, broadband and other infrastructure, according to another Republican who was granted anonymity to discuss the talks. private.
At the same time, transit funding has been a stubborn source of disagreement.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which oversees public transportation, raised questions about the size of the transportation funding increase. He cited, in part, previous COVID-19 federal aid money that had already been allocated to public transportation.
Democrats and public transportation advocates don’t want spending to drop any lower than what is usually a federal formula of about 80% for roads and 20% for public transportation. They see expanded public transportation systems as key to alleviating traffic congestion and fighting climate change.
Senators also appeared to be still debating money for public water works and lead pipe removal after Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, raised questions about the amount.
It’s also unsettled how to pay for the bipartisan package after Democrats rejected a fundraising plan by increasing gas taxes paid by drivers at the pump and Republicans foiled a plan to prompt the IRS to go after tax scoffers.
Funding could come from the reuse of Covid emergency aid, reversing a Trump-era pharmaceutical rebate and other streams. The final deal may run into political trouble if it is not approved as fully paid for when the Congressional Budget Office assesses the details.
The final package would need the support of 60 senators in the evenly divided Senate to move beyond filibuster – that is, at least 10 Republicans along with every Democratic member. A test vote last week failed along party lines as Republicans sought more time to negotiate.
Meanwhile, Democrats are reading the broader $ 3.5 trillion package, which would go beyond public works to include child care centers, family tax breaks and other priorities. It is being considered under budget rules that allow passage with 51 senators in the divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. That package would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate and the tax rate for Americans who earn more than $ 400,000 a year.