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Bipartisan group prepping infrastructure plan as White House talks lag

Bipartisan group prepping infrastructure plan as White House talks lag
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A bipartisan Senate group is prepping a fallback infrastructure proposal as talks between the White House and GOP senators appear to be at a stalemate. 

The group of roughly six senators, including Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE (R-Utah), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-Ohio), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Manchin is right on the filibuster, but wrong on the PRO Act Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaCentrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl MORE (D-Ariz.), are expected to shop it to a broader group of roughly 20 centrist-minded senators this week. 

"We've pretty much agreed on the spending level. I'm sure there will be some adjustments as we go along, and the pay-fors. ... We have a proposal that we'll take to the entire group and see how they feel about it," Romney said. "Maybe they'll just throw it out altogether." 

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Romney indicated that the group crafting the bill could start pitching it to their colleagues during a Tuesday meeting. Others involved with the talks warned that the closed-door meeting could instead be used to let key negotiators hash out final details before unveiling it to their colleagues. 

The group is reportedly planning to pitch their colleagues on a bill of around roughly $880 billion, less than the top-line figure being discussed by a separate GOP-only group led by Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoOvernight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (R-W.Va.) and well below what the White House wants. 

But senators involved in the bipartisan group also stressed that the details of their plan are still in flux.

"We're going to meet tomorrow and talk about that," Portman said about the price tag. 

Romney did, however, knock down reports from over the weekend that carbon pricing would be part of the group's suggestion on how to pay for their proposal, telling reporters that is not included in the plan.

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The effort by the bipartisan group comes as there's growing frustration, in both parties, about the pace of talks between the White House and a group of GOP senators led by Capito.

Members of the bipartisan group stressed that they saw their effort as a fallback plan to the GOP's negotiations with the White House. 

"We were very supportive of the effort that Senator Capito and the other ranking Republicans are having with the White House. We continue to support that," Portman said.

Capito and Biden, who met last week and separately spoke by phone on Friday, will talk again on Tuesday.

But the two sides remain far apart on both the price tag for an infrastructure package and how to pay for it, with little progress appearing to be made toward an agreement. 

Neither side has pulled the plug on the bipartisan talks but administration officials are warning that Biden won't let them drag on forever as he faces growing pressure from Democrats to try to pass a package on their own. 

"We don't seem to be able to arrive at something that we can all agree on ... but there does seem to be a reluctance on all sides to totally give up," said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntExcellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 Five takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision MORE (R-Mo.), a member of the Republican group led by Capito. 

Part of the problem for Democrats' plan to go it alone is that they need all 50 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to agree to greenlight reconciliation, which allows them to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster, and then for them to all vote for the subsequent infrastructure package. 

Manchin, however, said over the weekend that he's still "confident" Republicans can reach a deal with the White House. 

“I think we can come to that compromise to where we’ll find a bipartisan deal,” Manchin said during a Fox News interview on Sunday. “I’m very confident of that.”