Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal

Senate Democrats are warning that they will ask for changes to an infrastructure deal being worked on by a bipartisan group of senators, as they try to get reassurances on key priorities. 

The bipartisan group is still working to finalize their deal, and resolve a remaining sticking point of transportation funding. But the requests from Democrats are an early sign of the hurdles the bill could face even if it is able to get the 60 votes needed to start debate.

A group of Democrats is pushing for assurances that the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act, a drinking water and sanitation bill that previously passed the Senate in an 89-2 vote, would be fully funded through the bipartisan group’s infrastructure bill.

“I want to make sure that they are fully funded,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) told reporters. “I’m going to withhold my support until they are fully funded.”

Carper added that Democrats had received assurances that their proposal would be fully funded but were now hearing that “it may be moved around.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who crafted the drinking water bill, warned in a statement that it had to be fully funded through the bipartisan bill in order for her to support it.

“While I voted to proceed to consideration of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, more will need to be done in order for me to support the current proposal that is being drafted. … I can’t commit to supporting a final bill if it does not include full funding for my Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act (DWWIA) at $35.9 billion over the next five years,” she said.

In addition to Carper and Duckworth, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is also raising concerns about the funding for the drinking water bill, according to senators involved in the talks.

Cardin, in a statement on Thursday, said the “final details” for the bipartisan agreement “will be critical.” 

“We must be bold to deliver the job opportunities and the infrastructure for the future of our nation,” he said, adding that it should include “fully funding the investments” from the Senate’s previous drinking water bill and a separate transportation bill that previously passed out of committee. 

The red flag from Democrats comes after all 50 Democrats — except Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who switched his vote for procedural reasons — voted to start debate on a shell bill that senators are planning to swap the bipartisan group’s text into once it is finished.

Democrats will need the support of at least 10 GOP senators to start and finish debate on the bipartisan bill. But if some Democrats peel off on a final vote, that would require Democratic leaders to lean more heavily on GOP support.

A group of roughly 10 Democrats have been negotiating the bipartisan deal and updating the broader caucus.

Other Democrats also held back from pledging to support the bipartisan deal on a final vote, noting that they need to know what is in it beyond broad outlines. 

“I’m certainly ready to proceed” to debate, said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “[But] everybody’s got to see the details.”

Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are pushing for more rail funding, and are having ongoing negotiations on whether that fits into the bipartisan agreement or the separate $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that Democrats will try to pass on their own.

Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), who has led the negotiations for Republicans, pushed back against Democratic concerns that the bipartisan bill would underfund water infrastructure and take away flexibility from local communities that was included in the already-passed drinking water bill. 

“If you’re concerned about lead pipes, you should be very happy with this legislation,” Portman said, adding the the bipartisan proposal was “very flexible relative to current law.” 

Tags Ben Cardin bipartisan infrastructure bill Charles Schumer Chris Murphy Drinking water Rob Portman Tammy Duckworth Tom Carper
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