Biden Meets With Sinema as Senators Signal Progress on Snarled Infrastructure Deal

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President Joe Biden met Tuesday with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the lead Democratic negotiator on the teetering bipartisan infrastructure deal, as senators involved in the talks said that they had made progress in resolving some lingering disagreements, though other differences remain.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that both Biden and Sinema remained hopeful that a deal could be reached. “Both feel optimistic about the path forward and clearly both understand having lived through many iterations of legislating and negotiating before that it is always at the tail end when you have some of the trickiest discussions,” she said.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) also said he was optimistic, according to Bloomberg News. “Nothing’s 100%, but it looks pretty good,” he said.

Negotiators reportedly resolved a dispute over funding for water infrastructure, Bloomberg’s Erik Wasson reports, but money for mass transit remains a sticking point. Some Republicans are looking to change a decades-long approach to dividing highway trust fund spending on roads and mass transit, arguing that the traditional 80-20 split should be shifted and the transit share should be cut to 18% given the billions of dollars provided elsewhere in the bill for trains and buses.

Broadband regulation and prevailing wage provisions are reportedly obstacles as well, as is the accounting for unused Covid relief funds.

Other lawmakers growing more frustrated: While negotiators have consistently expressed optimism, some of their colleagues have less rosy views of the talks. “Republican and Democratic Senate lunches turned into venting sessions Tuesday afternoon,” Politico’s Marianne LeVine and Burgess Everett reported, adding that “the internal party dissension illustrates that the physical infrastructure package is far from a done deal.”

What’s next: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is letting the talks continue without a hard deadline, and he reiterated Tuesday that the Senate might have to work through the weekend or cancel its August recess as he pushes to pass both a bipartisan infrastructure package and a $3.5 trillion Democratic budget resolution setting the stage for the rest of Biden’s economic agenda. “We’re close,” Schumer said. “We’re going to get this done through the August recess if we have to stay, period.”

The bottom line: There may be too much at stake for the talks to collapse at this point, with Democrats eager to advance their larger spending package focused on “human infrastructure”. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told reporters Tuesday: “If the bipartisan deal falls apart, then I think everything falls apart.”

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