Progressives fire warning shot on bipartisan infrastructure deal
Senate progressives are signaling they aren’t ready to bless a bipartisan infrastructure deal unless they can secure firm commitments on a separate Democratic-only bill.
The early pushback comes as President Biden and a bipartisan group of senators reached an agreement on infrastructure spending, underscoring that any bipartisan legislation will have a ways to go before winning broad support on Capitol Hill.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vowed that there would not be movement on a bipartisan deal unless there is a “firm, absolute agreement” on a sweeping reconciliation bill.
“There is not going to be a bipartisan agreement without a major reconciliation package,” he said before Biden announced the deal Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said he is “not voting for a bipartisan package unless I know what is in reconciliation.
“I think there is, like I said, 20 votes for this,” he added. “I can find you a lot of other things that there are 20 votes for.”
Murphy said Democrats “need to have some understanding” that includes a “pathway to pass” a larger Democratic-only bill through the budget reconciliation process. He sidestepped a question about procedure and timing, saying those issues are still being discussed.
A bipartisan group of 10 senators — five Democrats, five Republicans — announced on Wednesday night that they had reached an agreement on a scaled-down infrastructure package and that White House negotiators had agreed to the details. Biden met with the group on Thursday and formally endorsed the deal, which includes $559 billion in new spending for a total of $1.2 trillion over eight years.
The deal includes $559 billion in new spending for a total of $1.2 trillion over eight years.
But that amount is still substantially smaller than what many Democrats want. Biden has outlined a $2.3 trillion jobs plan and a $1.8 trillion families plan, while the bipartisan group plan is more tightly focused on more traditional infrastructure like roads, bridges and broadband.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) panned the bipartisan framework from Wednesday night as “paltry.” And Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) argued that the “confusion” over what is in the bipartisan plan underscores that the smaller plan and the Democratic-only bill have to be linked.
“The confusion over the last few days makes it even more important in my mind that the two efforts … be directly connected. And I want it understood that as chairman of the Finance Committee … I will not support anything that throws those other matters overboard,” Wyden said, referring to priorities like climate change, health care and changes to the tax code.
Wyden declined to say how that would work procedurally on the Senate floor, saying it was still under discussion, but reiterated that the two plans have to be “directly connected.”
Democrats are pursuing a two-track path as they try to get infrastructure passed through Congress this year. On one path is the bipartisan group’s proposal, on the second is a Democratic-only bill that would be used to pass the reconciliation process that allows Democrats to avoid a 60-vote legislative filibuster.
Part of the scheduling headache for Democratic leaders is that reconciliation is a two-step process: First lawmakers need to pass a budget resolution that greenlights and includes instructions for a subsequent Democratic-only bill. Then they have to write and pass the sweeping multitrillion-dollar infrastructure bill itself.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), amid progressive pressure, said on Thursday before the deal was announced that the House will not pass the bipartisan bill until they are also ready to pass the larger Democratic-only package.
But progressives don’t have that guarantee in the Senate, where they appear likely to move separately.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on Wednesday night that he would take up both the potential bipartisan deal and the “first act” of the Democratic-only bill — passing the budget resolution that tees it up — in July.
Schumer has not given a hard timeline for when the Senate will take up the subsequent Democratic-only infrastructure package. But the Senate is poised to leave town in early August until mid-September, and Democrats believe its increasingly likely it will wait until the fall.
To even pass the budget resolution, Democrats need total unity from all 50 of their members, something they don’t yet have. And progressives are warning that they won’t let the bipartisan bill move forward without a broader deal on how the bigger package gets passed.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) warned that progressives are “not going to be left holding the bag.”
“There is no half a deal or 10 percent of a deal that covers roads and bridges and leaves everything else behind,” Warren said.
“We’ll work out the details on how the votes go, that’s part of what we’re talking about right now,” she added. “But make no mistake there’s commitment in our caucus that one piece is not going to go forward and leave the rest of it in the train station.”