WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of senators said they have reached an agreement in principle with the White House on a $1.25 trillion infrastructure plan, breaking a weeks-long logjam on a sweeping deal to modernize America’s deteriorating transportation systems such as rail, bridges and waterways.
The agreement was hammered out behind closed doors in the U.S. Capitol with top White House aides in negotiations that lasted into Wednesday evening. Some details, generally described as workable, still need to be ironed out, but comments from several senators and the White House indicate an agreement is at hand.
“We’ve agreed on a framework and we’re headed to the White House tomorrow,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters while departing the Capitol after two meetings that lasted several hours.
(Photo: GETTY IMAGES)
It’s expected to win approval from lawmakers in both chambers eager not only to address the country’s crumbling physical condition but also to show that both sides can still forge bipartisan consensus in a Congress that’s become increasingly partisan.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., another of the negotiators, confirmed to reporters that the agreed-upon framework is the same size as the $1.25 trillion package crafted by 21 centrist senators – 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats – who have been trying to reach a compromise since President Joe Biden first unveiled his American Jobs Plan in April.
The relatively large size of the group suggests the deal can survive attempts from far-right and far-left senators to filibuster it.
Included in the package is $579 billion in new money, Manchin said – less than the $1 trillion Biden had initially demanded but far more than initial proposals from GOP senators.
Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Mitt Romney, R-Utah,, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., take a break from a meeting on infrastructure for going to a vote at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)
White House press secretary Jen Psaki described the meetings Wednesday with senators as “productive,” saying the group “made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement.” She said Biden invited the group to come to the White House Thursday to continue talks.
The sticking point has been how to pay for what would be – by far – the largest transportation infrastructure package ever approved by Congress. While Manchin noted there was a “long list” of ways to pay for it, most of those details have yet to be released and may still need to be worked out.
Republicans had pushed to use unspent COVID-19 relief money while Democrats had floated other fees, including the possibility of raising the federal 18.4-cent per gallon gas tax by indexing it to inflation.
Manchin told reporters that any increase in the gas tax was not part of this plan.
“They made it very clear that the president was not going to be acceptable to that,” he said.
The White House has called indexing the gas tax to inflation – as pushed by some Republican senators in the group – a “non-starter,” noting it would break Biden’s pledge to not increase taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000. Biden also opposes proposals to repurpose already-approved COVID-19 relief funds to pay for infrastructure and surcharges for electric vehicles.
“We are not for a Ford F-150 tax,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday. “I’m not sure why others are.”
Even with the agreement in principle, Democrats are proceeding on a separate measure that includes elements of Biden’s agenda not supported by Republicans.
That not only would include elements of Biden’s American Jobs Plan left out of the bipartisan deal but also bring in pillars of his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan that includes “human infrastructure” such as free community college tuition, universal preschool and child care.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has begun meeting with Democrats to move that separate bill using “budget reconciliation,” a parliamentary maneuver that would bypass the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster and pass the bill only with Democrats in the 50-50 Senate.
“The second track is something we must support, even if it doesn’t get any Republican support,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Some progressives have said they’re willing to support a transportation-only bill on the condition that climate legislation is advanced as well.
“We’re saying that there absolutely has to be a guaranteed deal that climate is built into these infrastructure bills and that it matches the problem that has to be solved,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal. “We can’t have dessert before the main course.”
Contributing; Joey Garrison
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