Bipartisan infrastructure deal takes fire from left and right

Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.)
Greg Nash

A bipartisan infrastructure deal unveiled last week by a group of five Republicans and five Democrats is coming under fire from both sides of the aisle and may not survive the week.

Democrats are gearing up to kill the proposal because it falls well short of President Biden’s $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan, and because its menu of ways to pay for it includes indexing the gas tax to inflation, imposing a mileage tax on electric vehicles and repurposing unspent COVID-19 relief funds.

While Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Sunday said the deal would not include a gas tax increase, people familiar with the proposal said indexing the gas tax to inflation, which would raise revenue, was under discussion. They argue that would not represent a tax increase.

That view, however, is not universally shared in either party.

“I think indexing the gas tax is a tax increase,” said one Republican senator. “I’ve never been a proponent of increasing the gas tax. My colleagues are spinning that it’s not a tax increase.

Another major problem for Democrats is the bipartisan plan doesn’t go far enough to address climate change.

Many Republicans are unenthusiastic about the sheer size of the proposal and the prospect of giving Biden a major legislative accomplishment on a top domestic priority.

“Do I think we should spend that much? No,” the lawmaker added. “I don’t think the votes are there.”

“You don’t want to shoot down infrastructure but it won’t fly,” the senator said.

A Senate Republican aide confirmed: “A majority of our conference is probably skeptical.”

Democrats complained about the size of the proposal and the strategies for paying for it. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) called it “very, very paltry and disappointing.” 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he won’t vote for it. 

“The bottom line is there are needs facing this country. Now is the time to address those needs and it has to be paid for in a progressive way given the fact that we have massive income, wealth inequality in America,” Sanders said. 

At the same time, Democratic and Republican aides say that neither side wants to be blamed for killing the bipartisan proposal.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) on Monday praised the bipartisan proposal as “good work.”

“We’ll get a better sense tomorrow when we present to the conference about … where people might be. But I think there are a substantial number of Republicans who’d be for it. The question is how many can the Democrats deliver if it’s less than what they want?” Thune said.

But the No. 2 Republican leader also acknowledged that some Republicans will balk at the package’s estimated $1.2 trillion cost over eight years or $973 billion over five years. An estimated $579 billion would be new money over the current budget baseline.

“We have members up here who don’t want to vote for anything,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) expressed a willingness to consider the bipartisan infrastructure framework, but acknowledged he would have preferred other ways to pay for it than what the group of 10 senators put forward.

“I haven’t studied it that closely but I’m not opposed to the concept. I think I would have paid for it differently but I’m open to ideas,” he said.

As a result, the Senate Democrats and Republicans are in a sort of a staring contest to see who will blink first and quash the bipartisan proposal, which would then set the stage for Democratic leaders trying to pass Biden’s infrastructure agenda on a party-line vote under budget reconciliation.

Strategists in both parties say it’s hard to imagine a major infrastructure bill getting 60 votes in the Senate at a time of extreme partisanship in Washington.

“I don’t think it has much of a chance of passing because, first, there’s only five Republicans who have agreed to it and we would need five more and it would be very, very hard to find those five,” said Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist, referring to the fact that Democrats need at least 10 Republican votes to pass an infrastructure bill through the 50-50 Senate under regular order.

Secondly, Lux said the bipartisan proposals to pay for the package are so vague they’re “worse than sketchy.”

“Democrats are not interested in taxes on working-class people. For a Republican Party that claims it’s the party for the working class, all they want to do is tax working people. They don’t want to tax rich people at all. That’s not acceptable to most Democrats,” he said. “They’re not offering something that’s serious.”

Biden’s agenda has stalled on various other fronts.

Gun control talks between Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) fell apart last week; Senate Republicans last month blocked a bill to set up a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on Congress; immigration reform talks haven’t yet gotten off the ground; and a police reform bill facing an end-of-June deadline is running out time.

“Democrats can’t come on board with the Republican proposal, many of them won’t do it just because they’re not getting everything. They may agree with what’s in the proposal. They may want to vote for it but they’ll vote against it and their cover is their own proposal that spends a lot more and increases taxes on the wealthy,” said Brian Darling, a GOP strategist and former Senate aide, who predicted the gulf between Biden’s $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan and $1.8 trillion American Families Plan and the current bipartisan framework will prove too much for many Democrats to accept.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) hasn’t said whether he can get behind the proposal, which would spend $1.2 trillion over eight years, as White House officials are raising concerns over how Republicans want to pay for it.

Schumer emphasized Monday that infrastructure legislation must include strong climate provisions.

“As I’ve said from the start, that in order to move forward on infrastructure, we must include bold action climate,” he said on the Senate floor.

The Democratic leader says that whether a bipartisan infrastructure bill passes or not, Democratic leaders also plan to move legislation under budget reconciliation to enact major elements of Biden’s agenda that don’t have any chance of picking up 60 votes in the Senate.

“At the moment, both tracks are moving forward and progressing very well,” Schumer said Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he’s open to the proposal as long as it remains focused on traditional infrastructure priorities such as roads and bridges and doesn’t reverse any of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, former President Trump’s signature initiative.

McConnell on Monday gave the bipartisan framework a 50-50 chance of leading to the Senate passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“Maybe 50-50,” he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, when asked the odds. “Look, both sides would like to get an infrastructure bill.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Dick Durbin Donald Trump Filibuster Infrastructure Joe Biden John Cornyn John Thune Mitch McConnell Susan Collins
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