Still Hoping for a Bipartisan Deal, Democrats Consider a $4.1 Trillion Plan B Just in Case
Although President Biden’s push for a bipartisan infrastructure agreement took a hit this week as Republicans blocked a procedural vote to advance the effort, White House and Senate negotiators say they are making progress as talks continue and are optimistic that a deal is just around the corner. Several senators said Thursday that they expect to have an agreement early next week.
“I think it’ll be there on Monday,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) told Bloomberg News, referring to the bill’s text and budget score. “If not, not. So it’ll be a day or two after -- but I think it’ll be on Monday.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the bill is very near complete, including the contentious issue of revenues. “We had an agreement on 99% when we walked out yesterday afternoon,” he told Bloomberg. “The pay-fors are pretty much lined up.”
Given the steady progress, Biden’s long-running obsession with forging a bipartisan deal on infrastructure “suddenly looks quite doable,” Politico said.
But failure is still an option: Although negotiators say they’re close to an agreement, there are still some important details that need to be nailed down.
Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) said Thursday that they would not support the infrastructure plan unless it includes more funding for water and sanitation. “While I voted to proceed to consideration of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, more will need to be done in order for me to support the current proposal that is being drafted,” Duckworth said. “I can’t commit to supporting a final bill if it does not include full funding for my Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA) at $35.9 billion over the next five years.”
Other Democrats, including Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said they were looking for more money for high-speed rail.
On the revenue side, negotiators have reportedly agreed to delay a Trump-era rule that eliminates drug rebates for benefits managers in Medicare Part D, for a projected saving of about $177 billion over 10 years. However, details won’t be released until next week, and drug industry lobbyists are already lining up to oppose the move.
A giant Plan B: Even as negotiations on the bipartisan plan continue, with relatively high expectations they will succeed, some Democratic lawmakers are making plans for how to proceed if things fall apart.
One option would be to add the nearly $600 billion in new spending from the bipartisan bill to the $3.5 trillion outlined in Democrat’s budget blueprint, creating a $4.1 trillion package that includes all of President Biden’s “hard” and “soft” infrastructure priorities.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who sits on the Budget Committee, told Politico that he was looking into that possibility: “If for some reason the bipartisan version doesn’t work out, then we ought to be looking at a reconciliation bill that’s at $4.1 trillion,” he said.
Kaine said the larger number makes sense, since it’s clear that’s how much Democrats plan to spend overall. “The reconciliation instruction is ‘spend up to this number,’” Kaine told Axios. “We do look at the two bills as a combined investment, totaling about $4.1 trillion.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders said he agreed with that approach. “At the end of the day ... the $600 billion in physical infrastructure, you can do it in the bipartisan bill, or you can combine it with one bill,” he told Politico. “One way or another, it’s going to happen.”
But the massive spending total could give some moderate Democrats second thoughts, especially in the House.
“Heck, no,” Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) told Politico when asked about the possibility of a larger package. “We can’t afford to keep spending money we don’t have.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), an influential moderate, said he would want to look at the details, but also said the $4.1 trillion figure is “aggressive.”
Still, should the bipartisan deal fall through, some Democrats will push for the combined package, arguing that it all boils down to the same thing. “I don’t know why they’d change their mind on infrastructure spending depending on the vehicle through which it’s accomplished,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) told Politico. “That wouldn’t be a very logical position in my view.”
Lobbyists Swarm DC as Democrats Plot New Spending and Taxes
Democrats’ push for trillions of dollars in new spending – and the taxes to help pay for it – is proving to be good news for the lobbying industry in the nation’s capital. According to Roll Call Thursday, some K Street lobbying firms have reported record revenues in the first six months of 2021, as clients scramble to influence the scope of the emerging legislation.
Companies want to know how the still-developing infrastructure and social welfare plans could affect them and are looking for ways to sway lawmakers as they write new rules and create new programs. Firms are also looking for ways to protect themselves from changes in the tax code.
The visible hand: Karishma Page of the firm K&L Gates, which earned a record $10 million in the first half of the year, described the current lobbying environment: “Responding to a once in a century crisis, the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats continue to embark on one of the most ambitious policy agendas in recent history. The impact will be far-reaching across the economy and society, possibly for decades to come. Fates are being written.”
The revival of earmarks has also played a role in the lobbying surge, Roll Call’s Kate Ackley says. Some organizations, including hospitals and local governments, are getting back into the lobbying game after years of non-participation, drawn by the possibility of winning funding for specific projects through earmarks – or “member-designated projects,” as they are now called.
“I think a lot of people took a wait-and-see approach and didn’t know quite how real it was, but I think the process playing out like it is — community projects are here to stay, and it’s a real opportunity, and it’s a bipartisan opportunity,” one lobbyist said.
Clients increase spending: Some of the biggest spenders in Washington – a group that includes the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Amazon and Raytheon – have reported spending more on lobbying efforts this year, although two major groups – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Realtors – say they spent less, probably due to declines in election-related efforts.
Here’s a look at the 10 biggest spenders seeking to influence Congress in 2021:
With Eviction Moratorium Ending in Days, Just 6.5% of Rental Aid Has Reached Tenants, Landlords
A federal eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of this month, but with just days to go until the ban ends, states and localities have disbursed just about $3 billion, or about 6.5% of the nearly $47 billion in emergency rent assistance provided by the federal government since December.
Bloomberg’s Mackenzie Hawkins and Noah Buhayar report:
“The first round of federal funds, totaling $25 billion, was fully distributed to states and local jurisdictions by early February. By the end of May, the federal government had distributed another $8.6 billion from a $21.5 billion second round enacted in March.
“But only 12% of the first tranche of funding had made its way to renters by late June, according to U.S. Treasury Department data released on Wednesday. A handful of states like Texas and Virginia that quickly built infrastructure to dole out the money accounted for an outsize share of the funds that had been disbursed.”
More than 80 jurisdictions hadn’t started their distribution programs by the end of May, Hawkins and Buhayar say, even as localities stand to lost at least some of the funding if they don’t distribute it before October.
Picking up the pace: The Treasury Department said Wednesday that more than $1.5 billion in rental aid was delivered in June, more than all previous months combined. The aid went to 290,000 households, up from 160,000 in May and about 100,000 in April. But housing advocates warn that jurisdictions are still not acting quickly enough to prevent a potential crisis for renters and landlords.
Biden Admin Announces New Funding to Boost Covid Vaccination and Testing
The Biden administration said Thursday that it would put $1.6 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan passed in March toward boosting testing and mitigation efforts across a number of vulnerable communities, from homeless people to those with mental health and substance use disorders.
“As COVID-19 cases rise among unvaccinated people and where the more transmissible Delta virus variant is surging, this funding will expand activities to detect, diagnose, trace, and monitor infections and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in homeless shelters, treatment and recovery facilities, domestic violence shelters and federal, state and local correctional facilities– some of the hardest hit and highest risk communities across the country,” the Department of Health and Human Services said.
The White House also said it would send about $100 million in funding to rural health clinics to promote vaccination outreach efforts. "This funding will give trusted messengers in rural communities the tools they need to counsel patients on how COVID-19 vaccines can help protect them and their loved ones," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said.