Senators consider $579 billion in new infrastructure spending as part of a $1-trillion package
A bipartisan group of senators is eyeing an infrastructure deal with $579 billion in new spending as negotiators try to strike a nearly $1-trillion deal on President Biden’s top priority, according to those briefed on the plan.
The 10 senators have been huddling behind closed doors, encouraged by Biden to keep working on the effort after he walked away from a Republican-only proposal this week, unable to resolve differences. The senators are briefing their colleagues privately and cautioned that changes could still be made.
“Our group — comprised of 10 senators, 5 from each party — has worked in good faith and reached a bipartisan agreement on a realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies,” the senators said in a joint statement.
“This investment would be fully paid for and not include tax increases,” they added. “We are discussing our approach with our respective colleagues, and the White House, and remain optimistic that this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support from both parties and meet America’s infrastructure needs.”
The White House said Democratic senators briefed the administration on the emerging plan but questions remain.
The president, trying to break a logjam on how to pay for infrastructure improvements, proposes a 15% minimum tax on corporations.
“The president appreciates the senators’ work to advance critical investments we need to create good jobs, prepare for our clean energy future, and compete in the global economy,” Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said. “Questions need to be addressed, particularly around the details of both policy and pay-fors, among other matters.”
The president and Congress have been straining to reach an agreement on his ideas for an infrastructure investment, stuck over the scope of the package of road, highway and other projects and how to pay for it. Lawmakers say the group’s tentative agreement represents important progress in fashioning a bill that can pass such an evenly divided Congress this year, but they are also aware that it could easily unravel.
The cost would be $974 billion over five years, as is standard for highway spending, or $1.2 trillion if spread over eight as Biden proposes. At that size, the new package would be more than the previous Republican-only effort of $330 billion in new spending in a $928-billion package, but still short of the $1.7 trillion over eight years that Biden is seeking.
It appears the group is running into the same problems that Biden and lead Republican negotiator Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia confronted in agreeing on how to pay for it.
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a lead negotiator, would not disclose the final tab. Asked whether the new spending was at $600 billion, he said, “the president said that was his goal. So I don’t think anybody felt like they had to exceed his goal.”
Another member of the group, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), said they are “fairly close” on a topline amount but are still debating how to pay for it. One option is to include potential revenue from uncollected income taxes, he said.
“We still have to talk,” Tester said.
One Republican not in the group, Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, said he was told the package would provide nearly $1 trillion — including $579 billion in new spending over the baseline for transportation projects.
Braun also said parts of it would be paid for with untapped COVID-19 relief funds, which has been a nonstarter for the White House.
The meeting, at least part of which was not expected to include even senior aides, appeared to be an effort to build more of a personal rapport than to hash out the specifics of a deal.
“They have come up with similar to what I think Capito was working on, but my understanding is it would be a little more money,” he said.
Biden asked the senators to keep working as he set out for his first overseas trip after talks collapsed this week with Capito and the GOP senators.
The president is seeking sweeping investment not just in roads, highways and bridges but also broadband, electric vehicle charging stations and other aspects of what he views as the new economy, paid for with a hike in the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%.
Republicans prefer a more narrow focus on fixing existing transportation systems, with more modest investments elsewhere. They oppose any tax hikes to pay for the new spending.
With the Senate split 50-50 and most legislation requiring 60 votes to advance past a filibuster, Biden is seeking a bipartisan agreement to ensure passage. At the same time, he is also instructing Democrats who control the House and Senate to prepare to pass portions of the package on their own, under special budget rules that enable approval with 51 votes in the Senate.
In the evenly divided Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.
Meanwhile, a House panel advanced legislation early Thursday that serves as an important building block for that chamber’s infrastructure efforts. The bill aims to boost federal spending on roads, bridges, transit and rail. The $547-billion package passed mostly along party lines by a vote of 38 to 26 and will probably be considered by the full House later this month.
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics team.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.