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President Joe Biden announced after a meeting with Republicans that the two parties will come together on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, a significant achievement that could mark the president’s first legislative victory that does not involve use of the Senate’s reconciliation measure.
The president declared that five Republican senators who met in the White House had given “their word” that they would support the package, though it wasn’t immediately certain that it would have the support of five other Republicans needed to pass the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster.
Flanked by a group of senators from both parties including Lisa Murkowski, Bill Cassidy, Jon Tester, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, the president announced the deal on Thursday at a press conference from the White House.
“They’ve given me their word,” Mr Biden said. “Where I come from that’s good enough for me.”
“We’ll see what happens on the budget reconciliation process,” he continued, referring to the second bill Democrats plan to pass dealing with child care and other social services under the White House’s infrastructure umbrella. “They’re going to move on a dual track.”
Taking turns addressing reporters at the microphone, the assembled senators stressed that no side had gotten exactly what they wanted from the deal, hailing it as a true compromise.
A readout released by the White House valued the legislation at $579bn, far short of the $2 trillion framework for physical infrastructure the White House called for earlier this year. The plan includes funding for some progressive priorities including electric vehicles and related services, as well as funding for broadband expansion and water storage in drought-ravaged western states.
During a prepared address on Thursday afternoon following the impromptu press briefing, Mr Biden vowed that the plan would close America’s “digital divide” while also completing his promise to replace every lead water pipe in the country with safer alternatives.
“I want to thank them for working together, and for raising their ideas and concerns with me, and our vice president,” Mr Biden said in a separate address before leaving for Raleigh, North Carolina.
“We’ve devoted far too much energy to competing with one another, and not enough energy competing with the rest of the world,” he continued.
The president’s vow to move both bills at the same time came just hours after Nancy Pelosi had issued a warning at a press conference.
“Let me be really clear on this: we will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill. If there is no bipartisan bill, we will just go when the Senate passes the reconciliation bill,” she said.
“There ain’t gonna be no bipartisan bill unless we are gonna have a reconciliation bill,” the speaker added.
The announcement by the White House is the first indication that significant movement is occurring on the president’s second legislative priority, following the success in passing a Covid-19 relief package through reconciliation earlier this year.
The image of Mr Biden flanked by Republicans and some of the Senate’s moderate Democrats will also likely serve as ammunition for the president’s messaging efforts, which during the 2020 campaign touted his ability to bring back bipartisanship to a fiercely divided Washington.
Such prospects had seemed dim following the GOP’s refusal to support the American Rescue Plan, the president’s Covid-19 relief package, earlier this year as well as halting efforts to establish a commission to investigate the attack on the US Capitol.