Washington (AFP) – A bipartisan group of senators looks forward to Infrastructure deal With $579 billion in new spending as part of the $1 trillion package. It could be rolled out as soon as Thursday as negotiators try to strike a deal on President Joe Biden’s priority, according to those briefed on the plan.
The 10 senators were gathering behind closed doors, encouraged by Biden to continue work on the effort after walking away from a Republican proposal only this week unable to resolve differences. Senators privately brief colleagues and warn that changes can still be made.
“We’ve got a piece of paper with each line and a total,” Senator Mitt Romney, of Utah, told reporters at the Capitol. He declined to give further details. “Can it be modified and changed? Sure.”
The president and Congress were struggling to come to terms with his ideas for infrastructure investment, stuck in the scope of a package of roads, highways, and other projects and how to pay for them.
With that size, the new five-year package would be more than the previous Republican-only effort of $330 billion in new spending in the $928 billion package, but still less than the $1.7 trillion over eight years Biden is seeking. The group appears to be facing the same problems that Biden and leading Republican negotiator Senator Shelley Moore Capito did in agreeing how to pay for it.
Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Los Angeles, the chief negotiator, did not reveal the final tab. Asked if the new spending was $600 billion, he said, “The president said that’s his goal. So I don’t think anyone felt they had to overshoot his goal.”
Another member of the group, Senator John Tester, a Democrat from Mont, said they were “fairly close” to a basic amount, but were still debating how to pay for it. One option, he said, is to include potential revenue from uncollected income taxes.
“We still have to talk,” Tester said.
A Republican member who is not in the group, Senator Mike Brown of Indiana, said he was told the package would save nearly $1 trillion — including $579 billion in new spending on baseline transportation projects.
Brown also said that portions of it will be paid for through untapped COVID-19 relief funds, which was not a start for the White House.
“They came up with what I think Capito was working on, but my understanding is that there will be more money,” he said.
Biden has tasked senators with continuing work as he embarks on his first foreign trip after talks broke down this week with Capito and Republican senators.
The president is seeking sweeping investment not only in roads, highways and bridges but also in broadband, electric vehicle charging stations and other aspects of what the new economy sees, all driven by an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
Republicans prefer a more narrow focus on reforming existing transportation systems, with more modest investments elsewhere. They oppose any tax increases to pay for new spending.
With the Senate’s narrow split, 50-50, and most legislation requiring 60 votes to advance after the disruption, Biden is seeking a bipartisan agreement to secure its passage. At the same time, he is also directing Democrats who control the House and Senate to prepare to pass parts of the package themselves, under special budget rules that allow 51 votes in the Senate to be approved.
In the evenly divided Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote.