Transit funding, broadband holding up infrastructure deal

Negotiators on Thursday were working to resolve two issues standing in the way of a bipartisan infrastructure package: a disagreement over transit funding and how to handle a broadband internet component.

A fight that popped up earlier in the week over whether to use a Medicare-related revenue source, which White House officials want to save for a later reconciliation package, has been resolved, however.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-Maine), a key member of the bipartisan group, gave reporters an update on negotiations shortly before noon Thursday, as she was en route to subgroup meeting to hammer out some of the remaining issues.

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Negotiators are meeting in small groups on Thursday before most of the Senate leaves town for the weekend, although a broader meeting of the entire core bipartisan group of 10 senators has not been planned.

The bipartisan negotiators say they are on track to finalize their deal by Monday, though they may not have all of the legislative text drafted by then.

“Most of the agreements have been reached. There are a few things that are still being worked on and they largely relate to transit, highway and that split. I think we’ll be there Monday. If not so then a day or two after,” Sen. 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) told reporters.

Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (S.D.) confirmed that transit funding and broadband regulation remain the biggest hang-ups.

“I think the two issues right now are broadband and transit,” he said.

In the meantime, the Senate is awaiting word of an agreement from the group, which one lawmaker compared to waiting for a white puff of smoke from a papal conclave.

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Even lawmakers who say they’re ready to vote next week to proceed to a bipartisan infrastructure deal aren’t sure how well the talks are really going, even though they’ve been assured by negotiators that everything is on track.

“My understanding is they’re very close,” said Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump takes two punches from GOP 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 (R-N.D.). “I believe them, but I don’t know for sure.”

But the impasse over transit remains a tough issue to resolve.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over transit, has balked at the bipartisan group’s proposal to spend $48.5 billion on public transit, on top of the traditional 80-20 allocation of highway funding between highways and transit priorities.

Toomey says a huge prospective infusion of money for public transit would set a new precedent shifting the traditional allocation of resources from an 80-20 split in favor of highways to closer to 70-30. He also points out there is nearly $40 billion in unspent COVID-19 relief funds for transit.

Toomey has called for his committee to hold a markup on the proposed transit funding, but that request isn’t getting any support from Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Democrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch MORE (D-Ohio).

“I want a deal. I just hope we get a deal,” Brown said. “I don’t think a markup is the best way. I want to see some agreement and there’s not a lot of sentiment for public transit on [the Republican] side. They don’t really believe in the word public.”

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn 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 Senate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama MORE (R-Ohio), one of the lead negotiators in the bipartisan group, said “transit funding has not yet been resolved.”

He suggested it could be dropped altogether to avoid further slowing the deal.

“It’s important but if we can’t resolve it, then we could leave that out. I hope not,” he said. “Democrats are not being reasonable in their requests right now.”

On the broadband internet front, Thune said negotiators are debating rate regulation, who administrates federal funding for broadband expansion and who can access those funds.

“Democrats love the idea of local governments doing it,” he said.

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Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power CIA watchdog to review handling of 'Havana syndrome' cases MORE (D-N.H.), one of the negotiators, said broadband debate within the group has been “around some of the questions of administering the program, how you set up the low-cost service.”

She said she expects the issue to be resolved soon.

The negotiations ran into some more turbulence on Thursday when Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bipartisan framework remains mostly consistent on climate Nearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards MORE (D-Del.) raised concerns about funding for drinking water and sanitation infrastructure in the proposal.

He told reporters that he wanted an additional $6 billion in funding for communities allocated through grants in legislation passed by his committee earlier this year to remain as grants instead of being allocated through revolving loan funds.

“I’m going to withhold my support until they’re fully funded,” he said, noting the Senate passed the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act that came out of his committee on an 89-2 vote in May.

Carper said the legislation gave local communities broad authority on how to spend federal funding and expressed concern that some of that flexibility may be lost under the bipartisan deal.

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He said his bill increased funding in state revolving funds for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure to $30 billion and provided another $6 billion in grants for impoverished communities.

“Add it all up, it’s about $36 billion,” he said. “We’ve been assured that our legislation would be funded, would be fully funded, and now we’re hearing it may be moved around.”

He said the bipartisan bill would mandate a certain amount of money for lead-pipe replacement, providing significantly less flexibility that the legislation passed by the Senate in May.

Updated at 2:51 p.m.

—Jordain Carney contributed.