Senate Infrastructure Deal Faces Questions From Biden, Lawmakers

Senate Infrastructure Deal Faces Questions From Biden, Lawmakers

Leon Neal/Pool via Reuters

The White House said Thursday evening that it had been briefed on the infrastructure agreement emerging from a bipartisan group of 10 senators but had questions about the details of the deal, leaving it unclear whether President Joe Biden will support it. It’s also not clear whether the “compromise framework” tentatively agreed to by five Republicans and five Democrats can garner enough support among other lawmakers to ensure its passage.

“The president appreciates the senators’ work to advance critical investments we need to create good jobs, prepare for our clean energy future, and compete in the global economy,” Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement. “Questions need to be addressed, particularly around the details of both policy and pay-fors, among other matters. Senior White House staff and the Jobs Cabinet will work with the Senate group in the days ahead to get answers to those questions, as we also consult with other members in both the House and the Senate on the path forward.”

The bipartisan deal under discussion reportedly calls for some $974 billion in infrastructure spending over five years, with the funding focused on "core, physical infrastructure." Extrapolated to eight years, the total cost would come to $1.2 trillion, and the package includes about $579 billion in new spending.

The plan would not increase taxes as Biden has proposed, but it reportedly would repurpose unspent Covid-19 relief funds, rely on public-private partnerships and include an option to index the gas tax to inflation, an idea the president has opposed as a violation of his pledge not to raise taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 a year. “The White House has made it clear to the group of 10 senators that the indexing provision, as well as any discussion about an electric vehicle mileage tax, would violate Biden’s red line and that he would reject it,” The Washington Post reported, citing a person familiar with the negotiations.

The deal will face hurdles in Congress as well. Some Republicans will likely object to the size of the package, while progressives are already voicing concerns that the deal is too small and passing legislation focused on roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure will make it harder to pass the climate, caregiving and education plans they say are needed. "We cannot allow climate denial to masquerade as bipartisanship," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). "No climate, no deal."

Democrats also worry that talks on a bipartisan deal will drag on and use up the precious few weeks they have left to pass a package this year.

The bottom line: Congressional Democrats are working on two tracks, with Senate Democrats preparing to proceed with a budget process called reconciliation that would allow them to pass legislation with 51 votes rather than 60. But plenty of obstacles remain on both tracks.