Senate Democrats weigh $6T infrastructure bill, without GOP
“It’s what the American people want,” Sanders said Thursday. “Virtually every proposal I’ve included in that budget is exactly what the American people want. They want us to create millions of good paying jobs and to do the other things that are long overdue.”
According to a tentative plan, half of the proposed Democrats-only alternative would be paid for. About $2.5 trillion would go through the Finance Committee, $185 billion through the Energy Committee and almost $500 billion through the Environment and Public Works Committee, one source said, while emphasizing that the discussions are fluid. The dollar amount, however, is likely to shrink as moderates weigh in. At the moment, it appears impossible that all 50 Democrats would get on board with such a large figure.
A spokesperson for the Budget committee declined to comment.
Moderate Democrats met with Schumer midday to discuss their bipartisan proposal, the budget and reconciliation, according to two sources familiar with the matter. They have signaled they are unlikely to go along with a package running into the multi-trillion-dollar range, but talks about a compromise are just beginning in earnest.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) laughed when asked if the $6 trillion number is too high. He said he was “open” to reconciliation but wants increases to the corporate income tax and capital gains to be more modest than as presented by Biden.
“Can we keep [the bipartisan bill] alive and moving when we go ahead and start having some of the disagreements about reconciliation? Because I get that the Democrats are not going to go for the infrastructure plan, no matter how good it is, without at least giving it what I would term visibility with what’s going to happen on reconciliation,” Warner said in an interview. “I and others have to say: ‘I can live with this part and not that part.'”
The details of the bigger plan come as a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), released details this week of an infrastructure plan that costs about $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight. The plan would include $579 billion in new spending, and pay-fors include repurposing unused Covid relief funds, imposing a surcharge on electric vehicles, and expanding use of state and local funds for coronavirus relief.
Schumer may need to make sure he has unified support for a massive Democratic-only package before he can cut a deal on a separate, bipartisan bill.
The White House has balked at indexing the gas tax, the EV charges and raiding Covid funds. But a White House official said that Senate Democrats offered a more detailed, updated briefing to them on Wednesday.
“We continue to be encouraged by what our team was briefed on,” the official said.
Leaders in both parties expressed some skepticism about the initial bipartisan outline. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Thursday that the bipartisan group’s proposed ways to pay for its plan may be “problematic” because they may not produce revenue in the eyes of the Congressional Budget Office. But he added that “directionally, they are off to a good start. And most of the components are things that a number of our folks could be supportive of.” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the revenue side “held me back.”
“I only had hesitation because I just don’t know if those numbers will wash out, if you end up with the kind of revenue that’s projected for each of the items,” Durbin said.
So far, a bipartisan group of 21 senators have signed onto the bipartisan approach, and the plan’s details remain in flux. And Democrats’ separate considerations of an infrastructure bill as big as $6 trillion — more than President Joe Biden’s initial $4 trillion-plus plan — don’t necessarily suggest they’re preparing for those talks to run aground. The bigger framework includes provisions that could be added to a separate infrastructure bill passed along party lines even if the bipartisan talks pay off.
The White House met with a group of Democratic negotiators on Wednesday. But it’s not clear what the next steps are just yet.
“I think there’s an obvious path forward, there’s just some things that need to fall into place,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) who is participating in the bipartisan negotiations. “The first one being we need to get an agreement, hopefully on Monday. I just don’t think we can go any past on the bipartisan [talks] and then there needs to be a lot of work done by the budget committee.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is pushing for a bipartisan agreement and is not entirely committed to a second reconciliation package with only Democratic priorities, which is a key demand by progressives whose votes will be needed for any bipartisan deal. Liberal lawmakers for weeks have been pushing for the White House to go it alone.
Schumer has insisted that the Senate will take up infrastructure in July. He also wants the Senate to consider a budget resolution that would unlock the ability to pass a party-line bill and evade a filibuster.
The potential $6 trillion in scope, however, is much-welcomed news to the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has distributed a wishlist for the package that falls between $6 trillion to $10 trillion. Their list includes universal child care, lowering of Medicare eligibility age, a permanent extension of the child tax credit. The group has also proposed to pay for roughly $3 trillion of its proposal, mostly through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.
Moderates in the House, however, have balked at the price tag and the breadth of the package. While many moderates say they are willing to support policies beyond physical infrastructure, such as child care, there is little agreement about how far to go. House Democrats can only afford to lose four of their members on any given floor vote, and that margin will shrink to three votes after a special election in Texas in late July.
Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.