WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group of 21 senators reached a compromise Thursday to modernize the nation’s deteriorating transportation and public works systems, putting the president on track to pass the first plank of his sweeping infrastructure and family agendas.
Biden announced the breakthrough after a 30-minute meeting with the senators in the Oval Office, ending a weeks-long stalemate over the price tag and how to pay for what would be the largest transportation package ever approved by Congress.
The president did not reveal a price tag, but it is believed to be roughly $1.2 trillion plan including more than $550 billion in new spending. The deal focuses only on physical infrastructure structure such as roads, bridges, rail, broadband internet, water and sewer pipes, and electric vehicles. It avoids a gas tax increase that Biden resisted and a corporate tax hike that Republicans opposed but it was not immediately clear how it would be funded.
“We have a deal,” Biden said, smiling as he joined 10 of the senators outside the west wing to address reporters. He thanked the group and said it reminded him of the days when the U.S. Senate got things done. “We made serious compromise on both ends.”
The proposal, with bipartisan support and the backing of Biden, is likely to pass, even in a bitterly divided Congress. With the backing of 11 Republican senators and 10 moderate Democrats, the infrastructure bill would surpass the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster if all Senate Democrats vote for it.
Biden said he will pursue separate legislation to try to pass his subsidized child care, home caregiving, climate-change, prekindergarten and free community college proposals – “human infrastructure” components that Republicans oppose. He will have to rely on a legislative maneuver called reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to approve the bill with a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris breaks ties.
“We’ll try to get some compromise there, and if we can’t, I’ll see if I can attract all the Democrats into a position,” Biden said. “They’re going to move on a dual-track.”
From the beginning of talks, Republicans didn’t budge from their position that a bipartisan deal stick to only physical infrastructure.
“We didn’t get everything we wanted,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, one of the group’s lead negotiators, but said the parties came together on a “core infrastructure package” without adding new taxes. “And with the commitment of Republican and Democrats alike that we’re going to get this across the finish-line.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key moderate swing vote, said
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats hope to have votes on both bills in the Democratic-controlled House and the Senate in July before Congress departs for its summer recess.
“One can’t be done without the other,” Schumer said. “We can’t get the bipartisan bill done unless we’re sure we’re getting the budget reconciliation bill done.”
Appeasing progressive Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assured her caucus that the House won’t take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate sends over a bill focusing on Biden’s “human infrastructure.”
“There won’t be an infrastructure bill unless we have a reconciliation bill. Plain and simple.”
After Biden scaled back his initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and agreed to seek approval of his family and climate proposals separately, the biggest sticking point became how to pay for the bills. Republicans opposed undoing former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, forcing Biden to retreat from his push to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% in the bipartisan package. The corporate tax hike and other taxes on the wealthy are expected to be in Democrats’ reconciliation bill instead.
Republican senators proposed indexing the gas tax to inflation and new user fees for electric vehicles. But the White House stood firmly against both options, noting it would abandon Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000. The Biden administration also opposed repurposing COVID-19 rescue funds already allocated to states and cities.
“We’ve agreed on the price tag, the scope and how to pay for it,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “It was not easy on getting agreement on all three, but it was essential.”
The bipartisan Senate talks started after Biden ended previous negotiations with Republican Senate committee leaders who had the backing of Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
Although Biden’s trimmed-down instructure proposal earned him support from Republicans – delivering on a campaign commitment to seek bipartisanship – he’s gotten pushback from progressives, particularly climate advocates. They fear moderate Democrats won’t vote for a reconciliation package now that they claim a bipartisan win on infrastructure.
Lauren Maunus, advocacy director for Sunrise Movement, a youth-led environmental organization, said “we can’t afford to kick the can down the road any further” on climate-change initiatives. She called Biden’s first proposal “already the compromise,” arguing $1 trillion a year is needed to fight the climate crisis.
“When Democrats agree to water it down more, they’re condemning Americans to untold devastation,” she said. “We demand no climate, no deal.”
The 10 Senate Democratic caucus members who support the inrascuture deal are Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, Mark Warner of Virginia, Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Mark Kelly of Arizona. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, also endorsed the plan.
The 11 Republicans are: Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.