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Bipartisan Senate Group Revives Infrastructure Talks

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 6/10/2021 Lisa Hagen
Mitt Romney et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie: UNITED STATES - June 10: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks with reporters as he departs from the Senate floor after a vote in Washington on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) © (Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) UNITED STATES - June 10: Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks with reporters as he departs from the Senate floor after a vote in Washington on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

A bipartisan group of senators announced Thursday that it reached a deal on infrastructure, hoping to reignite chances that both parties can achieve compromise before the White House and congressional Democrats completely move to crafting legislation without GOP input.

The announcement of a deal in principle, however, was light in details and didn't include any top-line numbers, the exact provisions or how the plan would be funded, though the statement said the proposal won't include tax hikes since increases are a nonstarter for Republicans.

Biden wanted to pay for his American Jobs Plan by raising the corporate tax rate or at least levying higher taxes in some way on corporations and wealthy Americans. He says he remains committed to not increasing taxes for those who earn under $400,000 a year.

The group of 10 senators said its members are now discussing the framework with their Democratic and Republican colleagues as well as the White House, which will be the real test of whether the proposal has any momentum and a realistic shot at winning 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. It remains to be seen if the parties can merge their goals or if Biden will accept their proposal since he wants sizable new investments, especially on climate priorities.

"Our group – comprised of 10 senators, 5 from each party – has worked in good faith and reached a bipartisan agreement on a realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation's infrastructure and energy technologies. This investment would be fully paid for and not include tax increases," the statement reads, adding that they remain optimistic "that this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support from both parties."

News of a deal comes a few days after White House talks with a Republican-only group fell apart. Biden held his final call with GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on Tuesday, ending weeks-long negotiations since the two parties remain far apart on the amount of new spending on reforms and how to pay for the nation's crumbling infrastructure – and the definition of it.


Video: Bipartisan group of senators reaches agreement on infrastructure (CNBC)

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As talks fell apart with the first Republican working group, Biden held separate phone calls with GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona before departing on his first foreign trip to the United Kingdom.

Republican membership in the Senate group includes Cassidy, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Mitt Romney of Utah. Meanwhile, Democratic members include Sinema, Manchin, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Warner of Virginia.

The bipartisan Senate group had been working in the background since it was looking likely that the Capito-led talks were on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile, another bipartisan group of House members, known as the Problem Solvers Caucus, released its own infrastructure proposal on Wednesday totaling around $1.25 trillion, which includes nearly $762 billion in new spending.

The House proposal includes a much higher number of new spending than the series of counteroffers submitted to the White House from the Capito-GOP group, but it also didn't publicize on Wednesday how the group plans to pay for infrastructure reforms.

Democratic leaders, who are optimistic but still wary about the prospects of finding compromise with Republicans, are simultaneously moving forward with the budget reconciliation process, which will allow them to advance an infrastructure bill in the Senate with only 51 votes instead of 60. That means they'll need all 50 Democrats to vote for a reconciliation bill since no Republicans would likely get on board with that kind of legislation.

Biden wants both chambers to finish up an infrastructure bill this summer and is keeping multiple options open to expedite getting such legislation through Congress. And Democrats have suggested that they may be able to pass Biden's massive economic agenda – the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan – by passing infrastructure through regular order and then the White House's education- and family-focused proposal via reconciliation.

"We are pursuing the pursuit of reconciliation and that is going on at the same time," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. "It may well be that part of the bill that'll pass will be bipartisan and part of it through reconciliation, but we're not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill. We will just pursue two paths and at some point they will join."

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