Talks continue on infrastructure bill
WASHINGTON (AP) - Senators and the White House are locked in intense negotiations to salvage a bipartisan infrastructure deal, with pressure mounting on all sides to wrap up talks and show progress on President Joe Biden’s top priority.
Despite weeks of closed-door discussions, senators from the bipartisan group blew past a Monday deadline set for agreement on the nearly $1 trillion package. Instead they hit serious roadblocks over how much would be spent on public transit and water infrastructure and whether the new spending on roads, bridges, broadband and other projects would be required to meet federal wage requirements for workers. They’re also at odds over drawing on COVID-19 funds to help pay for it.
Republican negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who took the lead in key talks with a top White House aide, insisted the bipartisan group was “making progress.”
“This is heading in the right direction,” Portman told reporters at the Capitol. “It’s a big, complicated bill.”
Biden struck a similarly upbeat tone, telling reporters at the White House he remained optimistic about reaching a compromise.
This is a crucial week after more than a monthlong slog of negotiations since Biden and the bipartisan group first celebrated the contours of the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan agreement in June, and senators were warned they could be kept in session this weekend to finish the work.
The White House wants a bipartisan agreement for this first phase, before Democrats go it alone to tackle broader priorities in a bigger $3.5 trillion budget plan that’s on deck.
A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC found 8 in 10 Americans favor some increased infrastructure spending, and the current package could be a political win for all sides as lawmakers try to show voters that Washington can work.
Securing the bipartisan bill is also important for some centrist Democrats before engaging in the broader undertaking.
But as talks drag on, anxious Democrats, who have slim control of the House and Senate, face a timeline to act on what would be some of the most substantial legislation in years.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants progress on both packages before the August recess, and he told senators to brace for a Saturday or Sunday session.
The bipartisan package includes about $600 billion in new spending on public works projects, with broad support from Republicans and Democrats for many of the proposed ideas.
Yet there was little to show Monday after a grinding weekend of talks, putting the deal at risk of stalling out.
The final package would need the support of 60 senators in the evenly split 50-50 Senate to advance past a filibuster - meaning at least 10 Republicans along with every Democratic member. A test vote last week failed along party lines as Republicans sought more time to negotiate.
Meanwhile, Democrats are readying the broader $3.5 trillion package, which would go beyond public works to include child care centers, family tax breaks and other priorities. It is being considered under budget rules that allow passage with 51 senators in the split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie.
That package would be paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate and the tax rate on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year.