President Joe Biden is still trying to have it all: an infrastructure deal with the GOP and a sprawling spending package for his own party. It’s just not clear how much longer the strategy will hold.
With just days left before the Senate leaves town until mid-July, White House aides say Biden remains committed to talks with moderate Democrats and Republicans, even with little certainty that they will result in a deal. And while administration officials have been privately assuring Democrats they can tackle the rest of their wish-list while avoiding a GOP filibuster through the budget tactic known as reconciliation, the president’s allies on the Hill are growing increasingly restive.
“We have made our position clear, that the possibility of a bipartisan deal depends on a commitment to move forward on reconciliation,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Tuesday.
A high-profile huddle between the group of bipartisan Senate negotiators and White House officials ended on Tuesday with no breakthrough, raising big questions about the fate of that effort led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). That same group — whose broad framework has won support from 11 Republicans but remains short of critical details on how to pay for an infrastructure plan — will meet again by Wednesday at the latest, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement afterward.
Psaki added, in classic D.C. negotiation parlance, “While progress was made, more work remains to be done.”
But more roadblocks emerged as the two parties got deeper into talks on how to pay for the package.
“It’s gotten more complicated with the pay-fors,“ Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “There’s a number of things they ruled out previously and there’s even a bigger hole now.”
A group of White House officials will also meet Wednesday evening with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss both Biden’s conversations with rank-and-file Republicans and the party’s plans to make use of reconciliation, according to multiple people familiar with the talks. White House aides set to attend include director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young, Domestic Policy Council head Susan Rice, head of the National Economic Council Brian Deese, Legislative Affairs director Louisa Terrell, and White House counselor Steve Ricchetti, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
The White House for weeks has stressed to Hill Democrats that it can achieve its infrastructure goals using a two-track approach and stayed in constant touch with committee leaders who are starting to write a budget resolution for the next fiscal year. That resolution can pass with just Democratic support and unlock the reconciliation process, teeing up broader infrastructure legislation that can pass without the need for GOP votes.
A growing number of Democrats and outside groups have vented frustration with the pace of talks, concerned that the rest of Biden’s agenda will suffer. Asked whether the bipartisan negotiations could drag into the August recess, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) did not rule it out, saying merely that “I hope not.”
But as talks stretch toward the three-month mark since Biden first unveiled his infrastructure plan, many Democratic lawmakers say it’s time to see more movement before their scheduled weeks-long August break. Top Democrats in both chambers hope to vote on their party’s big reconciliation bill by the time lawmakers return in September — an enormous lift for an already-packed summer, with spending and debt ceiling deadlines on the horizon too.
“We need to wrap those up,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters on Tuesday. Hoyer described the bipartisan talks as “useful” but said he hoped they wouldn’t go on “much longer” without a result.
Hoyer and other Democrats are also signaling that their party plans to pursue a party-line bill even if Biden does reach a deal with the GOP. Republicans, however, contend that a bipartisan deal makes it far tougher politically for Democrats to pass a separate party-line bill that enacts Biden’s more progressive domestic priorities.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who is part of those bipartisan talks, said a deal between the parties would likely result in “reduced pressure” for Democrats to act on more of their agenda through reconciliation, or by nixing the Senate’s filibuster — a move they don’t have the votes for.
But White House aides know that progressive lawmakers won’t back a bipartisan infrastructure bill without the concrete assurance that a one-party package is in motion at the same time. And Psaki quickly shot back at Republicans who posited that success on the first would lead to inaction on the second, arguing that both could still be done.
“I don’t think that’s how the process works,” Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. “Maybe they need to go to how a bill becomes a law [class].”
As talk turns to the sequencing of the two bills, questions remain over how the infrastructure package itself could pass on a bipartisan basis. The White House has resisted some of the Senate negotiators’ latest proposals to pay for the bill, sticking to its red line that a gas tax or a tax increase on people making less than $400,000 a year is unacceptable to the president — the kind of hikes that many moderate Hill Democrats are also loath to support.
Instead, the White House has increasingly pushed tax payment enforcement as the primary means of revenue for a bill focused on roads, bridges and broadband. But Republicans have scoffed at proposals to better fund the IRS’ enforcement efforts. And with an impasse over how to pay for the bill still evident, progressives are pressing Biden to simply embrace deficit spending.
“In my view, we should be paying for all of the ongoing programs, the expansion of childcare, the child tax credit, the expansion of Medicare to cover dental and so forth,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters Tuesday. “What I don’t think we have to pay for is the one-time infrastructure improvements that we’re going to spend a lot of money on.”
Schatz said he’s also telling the White House the same. “I am encouraging them to deficit finance any capital expense,” he said. “The idea of paying cash for construction is absurd, and there’s a reason no one does that.”
Many of the same progressives have been urging Biden for weeks to abandon talks with the GOP. But if Biden does reach a deal, most liberal Democrats continue to insist they will not vote in favor on the floor unless they have a firm commitment on a broader partisan bill through reconciliation.
“We have two tracks,” added Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). “But ultimately, the two tracks all have to meet at the end to make sure that we actually have a climate infrastructure package that dramatically lowers emissions, that has environmental justice at its heart, and that it creates millions of new union, clean energy jobs in our country.”
Nicholas Wu and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
Original Post: politico.com