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Bipartisan group of senators reaches tentative plan on infrastructure

Sen. Rob Portman, holding his jacket, walks out of a door.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was among the senators who met with the White House team on Wednesday.
(Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

A bipartisan group of senators reached a tentative framework on an infrastructure deal Wednesday ahead of a crucial meeting with President Biden at the White House.

Biden’s top aides met with senators for back-to-back meetings on Capitol Hill and later huddled with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the president reaches for a signature domestic achievement with his sweeping $4-trillion infrastructure plans.

Although the plan from the group of 21 senators is expected to be far smaller, it would launch a broader process this summer that could open the door to Biden’s big proposals.

“We’re very excited about the prospect of a bipartisan agreement,” Pelosi said.

The group of senators, Republicans and Democrats, had been moving toward agreement on a smaller but still sizable $1-trillion proposal of road, highway and other traditional infrastructure projects. They have struggled to agree on how to pay for an estimated $579 billion in new spending.

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Biden invited members from the group of senators to the White House on Thursday.

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“The group made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement, and the president has invited the group to come to the White House tomorrow to discuss this in person,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

One member of the group, Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, said it was time for the group to do outreach to get more senators on board with their plan.

“In good faith, we tried to get there. We didn’t agree on everything, but we were able to get there,” Portman told reporters on Capitol Hill as he left an evening meeting with the other senators and White House team.

Biden has sought $1.7 trillion in his American Jobs Plan, part of nearly $4 trillion in broad infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and broadband internet but also the so-called care economy of child care centers, hospitals and elder care.

With Republicans opposed to Biden’s proposed corporate tax rate increase, from 21% to 28%, the group has looked at other ways to raise revenue. Biden rejected their idea to allow gas taxes paid at the pump to rise with inflation, viewing it as a financial burden on American drivers.

Psaki said the president’s senior staff had two productive meetings with the bipartisan group at the Capitol. The White House team was huddled late into the evening with the Democratic leaders.

The White House said Pelosi, Schumer and the top administration aides agreed on Biden’s goal of infrastructure investments without raising taxes on anyone who makes under $400,000.

According to a White House readout of the meeting, the leaders talked with Shalanda Young, Biden’s acting budget director, Brian Deese, head of the White House National Economic Council, and Susan Rice, chief of the Domestic Policy Council. They discussed the two-track approach ahead — a reference to the smaller bipartisan deal emerging from the group alongside a more sweeping plan of Democratic priorities that Congress is now drafting.

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Schumer said the leaders “support the concepts” they have heard from the bipartisan negotiations.

The Democratic leaders also insisted on the two-part process, starting with initial votes in July to consider the bipartisan deal and to launch the lengthy procedure for the Democrats’ proposal, now drafted at nearly $6 trillion.

The Democrats’ bigger proposal would run through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow passage of Biden’s priorities by majority vote, without the need for support from Republicans to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. It would require multiple rounds of voting that could extend into fall.

“One can’t be done without the other,” Schumer said.

That’s a signal to both parties of the road ahead. Liberal Democrats have been wary of the bipartisan effort because they see it as insufficient and worry it will take the place of Biden’s bigger plan. Republicans are also skeptical of passing a bipartisan bill only to be faced with an even bigger Democratic plan.

“We got our framework. We’re going to the White House,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) told reporters. “We wouldn’t be going to the White House if we didn’t think it has broad-based support.”


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