This week: Bipartisan group tries to clinch infrastructure deal amid hurdles

This week: Bipartisan group tries to clinch infrastructure deal amid hurdles
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of Senate negotiators is trying to finalize their infrastructure proposal, amid stalemates on key provisions and pressure on Democrats to show progress on President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE’s top legislative priority. 

The bipartisan group hoped to be ready on Monday to start an infrastructure debate, but signaled over the weekend that they were still stuck on final sticking points that threaten to push them further behind. 

Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanEmboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (Ohio), the lead negotiator for the Republicans, said the group was “about 90 percent of the way there.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

“We have one issue outstanding. And we're not getting much response from the Democrats on it. It's about mass transit,” he told ABC News. 

But a Democratic source close to the talks described the bipartisan negotiators as “still not there” on a final agreement and with a larger list of “major issues” unresolved in addition to the fight over transit funding including using unspent COVID-19 relief money to help pay for the deal and language on broadband. 

The source added that water funding was another unresolved issue after several Democratic senators indicated last week that they thought the bipartisan bill didn’t include full funding for the programs included in a drinking water and sanitation measure passed earlier this year. 

The group is hoping to quickly finalize their agreement and be able to provide the 10 GOP votes needed to start debate this week. Republicans blocked the debate last week as the bipartisan negotiators tried to finalize their agreement after announcing late last month with President Biden that they had agreed to a $1.2 trillion framework. 

Biden and the senators have sunk weeks into trying to get a bipartisan deal, arguing that infrastructure is a long-sought priority for both parties and should be able to get the 60 votes needed to defeat a Senate filibuster. But aides and senators have given mixed prognosis ranging from the group being on the cusp of a final agreement to predicting that the high-profile talks could go either way. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) has left the door open to be able to quickly bring up whether to start debate for a second vote. Democrats have suggested that if the bipartisan group can get a deal, they expect that vote would happen this week. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The ongoing talks, and pressure on the bipartisan group to produce a long-sought deal, comes as Senate Democrats have vowed to advance the infrastructure package, Biden’s top legislative priority, before they leave for a weeks-long break. 

In the Senate, Schumer has said he wants to vote on both the bipartisan deal and a budget resolution that greenlights a second, larger $3.5 trillion deal they would pass along party lines later this year. 

The House is largely in wait-and-see mode as they try to figure out what the Senate can pass, and when. The House is scheduled to leave at the end of the week until mid-September, but leadership has indicated they are keeping all options open for passing the budget resolution once it clears the Senate. 

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden pushes back at Democrats on taxes Yarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Of partisan fights and follies, or why Democrats should follow Manchin, not Sanders MORE (D-Calif.) reiterated on Sunday that she will wait until the Senate passes the $3.5 trillion spending package — which is expected to include top Democratic priorities like expanding Medicare, immigration reform and combating climate change — before taking up the bipartisan bill. 

Government funding

The House is expected to start moving bills to fund the government after the end of September to the floor this week. 

The House is scheduled to vote on a $617 billion package that combines seven out of the 12 government funding bills. 

“Next week, the House will turn its attention to Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations, well in advance of the deadline at the end of September. The Democratic House Majority has acted to fund nearly all of [the] government before this deadline for the past two fiscal years,” Hoyer said in a statement on Friday. 

“The House aims to do so again this year to provide our economy, our government agencies, and our constituents with certainty,” he added. 

The House package includes labor, health and human services and education; agriculture and rural development; energy and water development; financial services and general government; interior and environment; military construction and veterans affairs; and transportation, housing and urban development. 

The House could also vote on a bill funding the legislative branch starting on Oct. 1, a separate bill funding the State Department and foreign operations or a third bill that would fund the departments of Commerce and Justice, as well as science and related agencies. 

The bills, if they pass the House, would then go to the Senate, which has taken up none of the government funding bills and isn’t expected to before leaving until mid-September. 

Congress has until the end of September to pass new government funding and is expected to use a short-term bill, known as a continuing resolution, to get them past the Oct. 1 deadline. 

Nominations

As senators wait to see if the bipartisan group will be able to get a deal, Schumer has teed up Todd Kim’s nomination to be an assistant attorney general.

The Senate will take an initial vote on Kim’s nomination on Monday evening, with a final vote on confirmation expected on Tuesday.