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Slimmed down infrastructure bill advances in Senate, faces opposition in House

·Senior Writer
·6 min read
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While the Senate voted to move forward with a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, President Biden and congressional leadership must still navigate rifts between the caucus’s ideological wings.

Seventeen Republicans joined Democrats in advancing an agreement between moderates of both parties that would provide roughly $550 billion in new money for roads, bridges, ports, waterways, railways and public transit. The final text of the bill is yet to be written, and it still needs to pass both chambers of Congress.

Biden and White House officials celebrated the deal, which came in about $2 trillion under their initial plan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has insisted the bipartisan deal will be paired with a piece of $3.5 trillion companion legislation — to be passed with 50 Democratic votes via the process of budget reconciliation — that would cover climate, education, care workers and other provisions left out of the deal voted through on Wednesday.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (C) addresses the press on the infrastruture package at the US Capitol, in Washington, DC on July 28, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the Capitol on Wednesday. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

“I want to commend the group of senators who worked with President Biden,” Schumer said after the vote. “My goal remains to pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a budget resolution this work period. Both. It might take some long nights, it might eat into our weekends, but we are going to get the job done. And we are on track.”

In a brief statement to the press Wednesday afternoon prior to the vote, Schumer said the Senate was “on track to do both” and said they were “in very good shape to move forward on the budget resolution.” He declined to answer a shouted follow-up question about Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who said in a statement shortly before Schumer spoke that she wouldn’t support the $3.5 trillion proposal in its current form.

There is no legislative text yet for the proposal, just an agreement among Budget Committee Democrats.

“I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion — and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona’s economy and help Arizona’s everyday families get ahead,” Sinema said in a statement to the Arizona Republic. While Sinema said she was open to the legislation, her reference to “coming months” would not match up with Schumer’s proposed timetable.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, joined from left by, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speak to reporters just after a vote to start work on a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 28, 2021.  (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks to reporters on Wednesday after a vote on the infrastructure package. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Democrats have two paths forward: The first is to get all 50 senators in their caucus on the same page regarding a reconciliation bill, whether it’s the $3.5 trillion plan agreed to by members of the Budget Committee or something smaller that still appeases progressives. The second is to try and pass the bipartisan agreement on its own in both the Senate and House.

The second option could be a difficult road at the moment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said repeatedly, including on Wednesday at her weekly press briefing, that she will not take up a vote on the bipartisan plan until the reconciliation bill has also passed the House. Even if Pelosi were to put it up for a vote, there’s no guarantee it would pass, as the Democratic majority is so tight a defection from even a small number of progressives without corresponding Republican support would sink it.

“At the end of the day, two pieces of legislation, the bipartisan bill and the [budget] bill, have got to pass the House and Senate,” Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Wednesday. “It is my absolute conviction that you’re not going to have a bipartisan bill unless you have a [budget] bill of $3.5 trillion.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chair of the Senate Budget Committee, is met by reporters during the vote to start work on a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 28, 2021.  (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Capitol on Wednesday during the vote to start work on the infrastructure package. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said in a statement Wednesday that “a small and narrow bipartisan infrastructure bill does not have a path forward in the House of Representatives unless it has a reconciliation package, with our priorities, alongside it.”

“The votes of Congressional Progressive Caucus members are not guaranteed on any bipartisan package until we examine the details, and until the reconciliation bill is agreed to and passed with our priorities sufficiently funded,” added Jayapal.

Other members of the CPC were even more direct in their language opposing a narrow bill and targeting the Arizona moderate. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., retweeted a story on the Sinema statement and added, “Good luck tanking your own party’s investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you’ll survive a 3 vote House margin - especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a ‘bipartisan accomplishment.’”

House Transportation Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., a founding member of the CPC, called the bill “crap” in a closed-door meeting with Democrats Tuesday and referred to Sinema, a lead Democratic negotiator, as a Republican.

“I could give a damn about the White House. We’re an independent branch of government,” DeFazio told Politico. “They cut this deal. I didn’t sign off on it.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio speaks at Go Bigger on Climate, Care, and Justice! on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)
Rep. Peter DeFazio has been an outspoken critic of the Senate infrstructure deal. (Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Green New Deal Network)

A number of Senate Democrats criticized the stand-alone infrastructure bill as being too weak on climate while negotiations between moderate members of their party and Republicans continued all summer, including threats to oppose a final bill that wasn’t green enough. Biden celebrated the agreement but said there was more work to be done to smooth things over in Congress.

“This deal signals to the world that our democracy can function, deliver and do big things,” Biden said in a statement, but added, “Of course, neither side got everything they wanted in this deal. But that’s what it means to compromise and forge consensus — the heart of democracy. As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home. There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way.”

If the infrastructure deal is passed without a corresponding reconciliation bill, it will come in at about one-eighth of Biden’s original American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan proposal. Politico reported in June that Republicans were eyeing support for the smaller bipartisan deal as a plan to both kill Biden’s larger agenda and fracture the Democratic Party. In an interview with Fox Business on Wednesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a rare cross-aisle compliment, saying he was pleased to hear of Sinema’s opposition and calling her “courageous.”

President Joe Biden speaks at Mack Truck Lehigh Valley Operations on July 28, 2021 in Macungie, Pennsylvania. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
President Biden celebrated the agreement but acknowledged that there will be “more compromise to forge along the way.” (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

One Republican who came out against the bill was former President Donald Trump, who issued a statement that included a threat against Republicans who supported it.

“Don’t do it Republicans — Patriots will never forget! If this deal happens, lots of primaries will be coming your way!” Trump said, the day after the candidate he endorsed in Texas lost a special election.

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