Progressives threaten to block bipartisan infrastructure proposal

Progressives threaten to block bipartisan infrastructure proposal
© Greg Nash

A growing number of Senate progressives say they will not support a scaled-down infrastructure package on its own, arguing it must be part of a broader agreement to spend trillions of dollars.

At least four members of the Democratic caucus said a $974 billion infrastructure proposal — backed by five Republicans and five Democrats last week — will not get their votes.

They are insisting that any bipartisan package advanced by Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Pelosi, Schumer vow climate action: 'It is an imperative' MORE (D-N.Y.) under regular order must be accompanied by an agreement to pass a much larger infrastructure measure through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow Democrats to sidestep a GOP filibuster if all 50 caucus members stick together.

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The demand from progressives would significantly complicate the prospect of getting 60 votes for a slimmed-down compromise bill.

“I’m confident that there’s only one deal that’s out there, and that’s one deal that covers all the pieces we need in infrastructure. There’s no half a deal or a quarter of a deal that I can support, and I think I have a lot of Democratic colleagues who feel the same,” said Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (D-Mass.) before a Tuesday caucus meeting.

“I’m a no on half a deal,” she said when asked specifically about the bipartisan proposal. “We need a whole deal and a whole deal means there’s child care, there’s green energy and there’s a reform of the tax code that makes the rich and the powerful pay their fair share.”

Three other progressives have voiced similar demands, which means any stand-alone bipartisan infrastructure deal would likely need at least 15 or 20 Republican votes to get through the Senate.

The dimming prospects for any bipartisan package means there’s more pressure on President BidenJoe BidenBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Former New York state Senate candidate charged in riot MORE, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTim Ryan slams McCarthy for mocking Capitol physician, mask mandate McCarthy knocks Pelosi, mask mandate: 'This House has broken the country's trust' Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Calif.) and Schumer to accelerate negotiations on an infrastructure bill that can pass the Senate and House with only Democratic votes under the budget reconciliation process.

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Members of the House Democratic Caucus were briefed Tuesday by Steve RicchettiSteve RicchettiBiden adviser's brother lobbied National Security Council on GM's behalf Lobbyists with Biden ties enjoy surge in revenue, clients Trouble: IRS funding snags bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE, a top adviser to Biden, and Shalanda Young, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, who said they would give Senate negotiators seven to 10 days to reach a bipartisan agreement, according to Democrats in the meeting. If no deal is reached during that period, the officials said, Democrats will gauge the progress of those talks and charge ahead with a partisan package if need be.

The White House pushed back on that characterization later in the day, emphasizing that Biden's preference remains a bipartisan deal and that there is no deadline for cutting off talks.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersBriahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extending student loan pause is a 'bad look' Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals Human rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action MORE (I-Vt.) said Monday that he would not vote for the bipartisan proposal unveiled last week because it would not be paid for by raising taxes on the wealthy.

"I wouldn't vote for it," Sanders said Monday evening. "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." 

Two other progressives — Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyNearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Olympics medals made of mashed up smartphones MORE (D-Mass.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games Lawmakers urge Biden to make 'bold decisions' in nuclear review MORE (D-Ore.) — on Tuesday signaled they would not support any scaled-down bipartisan infrastructure deal unless there’s also agreement from all 50 members of the Democratic caucus to also move a larger bill under budget reconciliation, and that the details of the bigger package are spelled out in advance.

Asked if he could vote for the bipartisan proposal unveiled last week if promised that a broader reconciliation bill will come to the Senate floor soon after, Markey said, “I could not.”

“We’re saying that there absolutely has to be a guaranteed deal that climate is built into these infrastructure bills and that it matches the problem that has to be solved. We can’t have dessert before the main course. The main course is a climate infrastructure bill,” he added. “We can’t leave the climate behind. We have to have a guarantee that it will be included in a bill that has the votes to be put ultimately on the desk of President Biden.”

Merkley explained that progressives want “two tracks welded together.” 

“And before the infrastructure bill, the bipartisan bill, ever goes to the floor, we have the 50 votes — hopefully a lot of Republicans joining us — the 50 votes to make sure a reconciliation process is guaranteed,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseKavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Christine Blasey Ford's lawyers blast FBI's Kavanaugh investigation as 'sham' New York gun rights case before Supreme Court with massive consequences  MORE (D-R.I.), another outspoken climate advocate, voiced a similar demand on Tuesday.

“I think there are obviously going to be details that are going to be in play until the very end. But I’d want a pretty damn clear approach to an open runway that I could have personal confidence in would provide us with the climate legislation we need,” he said.

Asked what he thought about the climate-related provisions in the $974 billion bipartisan proposal, Whitehouse answered: “Meh.”

The growing opposition among progressives poses a serious challenge to picking up Republican support for the smaller bipartisan package. If Republicans know that passing a bipartisan stand-alone bill will be part of a larger, guaranteed agreement to pass a second, multitrillion-dollar infrastructure investment package with only Democratic votes, it will diminish their desire to cooperate at all.

“More of our members will jump ship,” a senior Republican aide predicted, if they see passage of the bipartisan proposal as smoothing the way for centrist Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal GOP, Democrats battle over masks in House, Senate Sinema says she opposes .5T price tag for spending bill MORE (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOn The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year Biden, Sinema meet as infrastructure talks hit rough patch Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure MORE (D-Ariz.) to later back a larger reconciliation bill.

Updated at 3:02 p.m.