Almost as soon as the infrastructure talks died, they were resuscitated under new leadership.
As President Joe Biden flies to Europe to deal with international issues, a coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans have gathered on Capitol Hill to chart what they hope will be a new path forward in matters of ‘infrastructure.
The new negotiations raise a whole new set of questions about how an agreement on what has become a politically divisive package might be reached and what that deal might look like.
Wait. Are the discussions on infrastructure not over?
Think again. They are not finished, they have just moved on to a new set of negotiators.
The White House announced Tuesday that Biden was ending infrastructure talks with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., who had been deputized by Republican leader Mitch McConnell to lead the negotiations.
The White House and Capito negotiated for weeks trying to find a compromise, but failed on several fronts. They never came to an agreement on how to fund such a massive bill or how big the bill was, and even after weeks of readjustments, they remained hundreds of billions of dollars behind in cost. global.
According to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, Capito’s proposal failed to “meet our country’s basic needs to restore our roads and bridges, prepare for our clean energy future, and create jobs “. According to Capito, the White House “moved the goalposts on me several times and they just decided to walk away.”
But as those talks collapsed, the White House signaled that it trusted the efforts of a separate bipartisan group.
The White House announced on Tuesday that Biden had spoken to meaning Bill Cassidy, R-La., Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Az.
“He urged them to continue working with other Democrats and Republicans to develop a bipartisan proposal that he hopes will be more suited to the country’s urgent infrastructure needs.”
Very quickly, the focus on Capitol Hill shifted to the behind-the-scenes work of a group of which these three senators are a part.
Who is involved in this round of negotiations?
Ten Senators, five on either side of the aisle, huddled in a hiding place in the Capitol’s basement and worked on pizzas brought in by staff until nearly 9 p.m. Tuesday night, trying to narrow down the details of ‘a new infrastructure proposal.
This core group includes Sinema, Manchin and Cassidy as well as Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Jon Tester, R-Mont., Mark Warner, D-Va. , Jeanne Shaheen, RN.H., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
Members of this group have been working together behind the scenes for several weeks to craft a back-up plan in case the White House-Capito talks fail, but they have only just come to focus as infrastructure talks take on a new lease of life. turning.
They are currently preparing their case with a larger coalition of consensus members on both sides.
What does this new bipartite group propose?
Details of the bipartisan proposal have yet to be released, in part because senators involved in the negotiations say they are still discussing among themselves what their package might include.
They have yet to hit a high figure, and several members of the bipartisan negotiating group have declined to speculate what that might ultimately be.
They say they expect their bill to fund “basic” infrastructure priorities, such as roads, bridges, ports and waterways. It won’t focus on some of the larger “human infrastructure” elements, such as child care, home care, and funding for school buildings, which Biden included in his original package.
How to pay for the package remains an open question as talks continue.
Romney has emphatically said the group will not offer to raise taxes. Portman suggested the group examine whether funds from previous COVID-19 bills could be reallocated to fund this package, although the White House has previously rejected the idea.
“The hardest part about it from my perspective is probably how are we going to pay for it,” Tester said.
Can they come to an agreement that will pass?
Members of the bipartisan negotiating group are optimistic about the possibility of reaching a deal.
But the reality is that these negotiations face an uphill battle because the two sides have very different visions of what they want an infrastructure package to do, and the bill will require 60 votes to pass in the government. Senate.
If the bipartisan offer is too small or does not include sufficiently broad priorities, progressive Democrats might not support it. If the bill goes too far, it likely won’t find 10 sympathetic Republicans.
Already Republican Whip John Thune has cast cold water on any package that offers new spending far in excess of what Capito offered in his negotiations with Biden, a figure Biden has deemed unacceptably low.
“It’s hard for me to see a scenario where even 10 Republicans vote for something that goes way beyond Shelley’s talks with the White House,” Thune said.
Both sides also have red lines on how to fund the package. Democrats categorically reject all charges for those who earn less than $ 400,000 a year. Republicans reject all kinds of tax hikes.
It is an incredibly delicate needle to thread to rally all interested parties. The White House has spoken to some members of the negotiating group but has yet to consider their proposal. And Democratic and Republican leaders are not directly involved in the talks.
“You can’t get a successful deal unless you find a way to get the White House, you can’t get the White House unless you know how to get the Democrats, you can’t get the Democrats unless you that you can figure out how to get the Republicans on, “Murkowski said.” So let’s all move on. “
But can’t Democrats go it alone?
Technically yes, they can. Senate Democrats have the option of using a procedural tool called reconciliation to bypass the usual 60-vote threshold needed to pass a bill in the Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been unusually clear that he kept this option wide open.
Schumer told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that if a bipartisan deal is reached, he still intends to use this fast track to push through other Democratic priorities, including social and environmental agendas that Biden presented in his first infrastructure package.
“It won’t be the only answer,” Schumer said of the bipartisan effort. “We all know that as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things the country needs in a totally bipartisan way – in a bipartisan way, and so at the same time, we are continuing the pursuit of reconciliation. is happening at the same time, and it may well be that part of the bill that will pass will be bipartisan and part of it involves reconciliation. But we are not going to sacrifice the grandeur and the audacity of this law Project. “
Schumer has always had the option of trying to push a huge infrastructure package on a party-line vote at any time during the last few months of negotiations, but he would need all 50 Democrats in his caucus to support the effort. . At present, he does not have that support because Manchin has repeatedly stated that he wants to see a display of bipartisanship.
That’s why pizza, eaten at a common table shared by Democrats and Republicans late at night, is so critical. Pizza matters to Manchin.
If the Democrats hope to go it alone, they will have to assure Manchin that they have really given everything to two-party politics. And if allowing a proposal, led by him and made on a slice of pizza shared with Republicans, is the way to make this point, it could be a bet the White House is willing to take.