Bipartisan talks sow division among Democrats

Democratic lawmakers are splitting apart over whether it makes sense to continue negotiating with Republicans on a scaled-down infrastructure package after President BidenJoe BidenThe Supreme Court and blind partisanship ended the illusion of independent agencies Missed debt ceiling deadline kicks off high-stakes fight Senate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session MORE ended talks with Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBiden to return to pre-Obama water protections in first step for clean water regulations The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators MORE (W.Va.), the lead Republican negotiator on infrastructure.

A new group of Senate negotiators is looking to pick up where Biden and Capito left off, but that’s not welcome news to progressive Democrats, who think too much time has already been spent trying to reach an elusive bipartisan infrastructure deal.

The bipartisan talks, which right now includes five Republican and five Democratic senators, is getting pushback from the broader Senate Democratic Caucus as well as key progressives in the House who argue that they’re wasting time.

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Democratic senators expressed concern during a caucus meeting Tuesday that moving a scaled-down infrastructure bill that includes the most popular bipartisan priorities — such as new spending for roads, bridges and airports— could make it more difficult to move a bigger infrastructure package under the budget reconciliation process.

Progressives worry that moderates who vote for a scaled-down infrastructure bill may not later support a larger package with provisions addressing climate change, expanding access to child care and funding long-term home health care.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseLobbying world Kavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers blast FBI's Kavanaugh investigation as 'sham' MORE (D-R.I.) tweeted on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Whitehouse said he was nervous that climate provisions might get left out of a bipartisan infrastructure package.

“I’m still nervous. We must get Senate Dems unified on climate on a real reconciliation bill, lest we get sucked into ‘bipartisanship’ mud where we fail on climate,” he tweeted.  

Whitehouse said after the caucus meeting Tuesday that he wants all Democrats, including moderates involved in a new round of bipartisan talks, to understand that a scaled-down infrastructure package and a larger reconciliation package must move in tandem.

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“There’s widespread concern that the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations not be permitted to form a cap on our aspirations for what we can do without Republican support if we need to,” he said. “It needs to be clear going in this is a two-stage process and we’ve got to be committed to both parts of the process.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-N.Y.), a prominent House progressive, warned Wednesday that Democrats are wasting the little time they have to enact Biden’s $4 trillion infrastructure agenda before next year’s elections.

She noted that Democrats unexpectedly lost their 60-seat Senate supermajority in January 2010 when Republican Scott Brown scored a stunning upset victory in the special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who died a few months earlier.

“Dems are burning precious time & impact negotiating w/ GOP who won’t even vote for a Jan 6 commission. McConnell’s plan is to run out the clock. It’s a hustle. We need to move now,” she tweeted, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (R-Ky.).

Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalAngst grips America's most liberal city Congress must lower the Medicare Age to save the lives of older Americans House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate MORE (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said it’s “foolish” to hope for a bipartisan deal and urged Democratic leaders to move immediately to setting up a budget reconciliation process to bypass a GOP filibuster and pass a major infrastructure package through the Senate with a simple-majority vote.

“In case it wasn’t clear already, it certainly is now: Republicans are not going to do what needs to be done for working families. It would be foolish to think that Republican senators will suddenly go against Leader McConnell’s goal of dedicating 100 percent of his energy toward blocking President Biden’s agenda,” she said in a statement.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Angst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (I-Vt.) also vented his frustration with the latest push to extend bipartisan talks.

“Enough is enough. Every state in this country has a crumbling infrastructure. Now is the time to put our people back to work by finally addressing the structural problems we face. Let’s get it done,” he tweeted.

Sanders told CNN in a follow-up interview that there wouldn’t be 10 Republican votes to get even a scaled-down bipartisan package through the Senate outside the reconciliation process.

“I do not believe there are 10 Republican senators who are prepared to take on the wealthy and the powerful and special interests and do the right thing for the American people,” he said, citing the lack of a single Republican vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would address pay disparities between men and women. 

In a nod to rising consternation among Senate liberals, Schumer said Tuesday that infrastructure will move on two tracks, guaranteeing that a larger bill moving under budget reconciliation won't get left behind.   

Despite rising irritation among their more liberal colleagues, a small group of moderate Democrats led by Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban MORE (D-Ariz.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSunday shows preview: Delta concerns prompt CDC mask update; bipartisan infrastructure bill to face challenges in Senate Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure MORE (D-W.Va.) are forging ahead with their own negotiations with Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet On The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE (R-Ohio), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-Utah) and a few other Republicans.

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate infrastructure talks spill over into rare Sunday session Senate holds sleepy Saturday session as negotiators finalize infrastructure deal Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire MORE (D-Va.), a member of the moderates’ group, defended the attempt to restart bipartisan negotiations after Biden and Capito failed to reach a deal.

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Warner acknowledged the bipartisan talks on a smaller package and what happens with a budget reconciliation package “are intertwined” but noted  that “the president’s made very clear that if we can get a substantial bipartisan infrastructure package that he would want to see that happen.”

“We all know historically that if you do things bipartisan they have a tendency to stick longer,” he added.

The trajectory of the talks between Senate Democratic and Republican moderates is raising doubts about whether any resulting proposal can secure the support of 10 GOP senators and Biden, who made clear during his talks with Capito that he wants infrastructure investment paid for in part with tax increases.

Senate Minority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneBiden's bipartisan deal faces Senate gauntlet Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks MORE (R-S.D.) said “not many” Republicans will support any infrastructure package that goes further than what Capito offered Biden.

“It’s going to have to hew pretty closely to the contours of what Capito is talking about and particularly with regards to pay-fors. The one thing our members aren’t going to vote for is tax increases,” Thune said.

“I hope it yields a result, but after seeing the Capito-White House negotiations break down I’m not holding my breath,” he added.  

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Members of the new group of bipartisan negotiators say tax increases are off the table, though they are looking at indexing the gas tax to inflation, which some members argue is not a tax increase, per se.

There’s also skepticism among Democrats and Republicans that Biden will back an agreement that doesn’t raise taxes on corporations, which would benefit immensely from greater ease of moving products to market through upgraded infrastructure.

Sources familiar with the Capito-Biden talks say the president repeatedly put different tax hikes on the table. His last counteroffer proposed setting a 15 percent minimum tax for profitable corporations that otherwise would pay little or nothing because of various tax breaks.