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Biden gives green light to bipartisan infrastructure plan

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), following a bipartisan meeting with U.S. senators about the proposed framework for the infrastructure bill, at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 24, 2021.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday embraced a bipartisan Senate deal to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure projects, building roads, bridges and highways and helping stimulate the economy.

“We have a deal,” Biden told reporters, flanked by Democratic and Republican senators who wrote the $1.2 trillion proposal, which came after months of White House negotiations with lawmakers.

One of the members of the Group of 21 senators, Republican Rob Portman said, “We didn’t get everything we wanted but we came up with a good compromise.”

He said they had commitments from Republicans and Democrats alike to get this thing “across the finish line.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who was briefed on the G-21 plan early on Thursday, would not yet say whether he will back the initiative.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said details would be released later in the day. Lawmakers will be looking closely at how the proposal pays for around $559 billion in new spending contained in the package.

Democratic and Republican members of the group displayed high spirits, chuckling and smiling together at microphones in the driveway of the White House. Biden was due to speak further about the deal at the White House at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT).

Before the White House meeting, Portman told reporters on Capitol Hill that McConnell “remains open-minded and he’s listening.” Portman, a leading Republican member of the G-21, added, ‘He hasn’t made his decision.”

McConnell did not respond later to questions from reporters about his position.

“They’ve done a lot of good work. There’s a good framework there,” said Senator John Thune, the chamber’s No. 2 Republican, who also met with McConnell. He told reporters that party leaders would wait for the White House’s response and discuss the framework with members of the caucus.

Democrats, who hold narrow control of both chambers of Congress, want to pass a bipartisan bill but also push through another large-scale spending package over Republican opposition using a Senate maneuver called reconciliation.

For Biden, securing a large-scale infrastructure package is a top domestic priority.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Thursday he was “encouraged” by what he had heard of the proposal, though he cautioned that neither he nor House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Democrat, had seen it.

Schumer also said a $1.2 trillion bill focused on physical infrastructure would not get the Democratic votes needed to pass it without an accompanying package tackling social issues including home healthcare.

“All parties understand, we won’t get enough votes to pass either, unless we have enough votes to pass both,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. He said the Senate would aim for a vote on the bipartisan plan next month.

Pelosi said that the House would only vote on the bipartisan bill after the Senate had also approved the additional spending package to be passed through reconciliation.

STICKING POINT

Biden, seeking to fuel economic growth and address income inequality after the coronavirus pandemic, initially proposed spending about $2.3 trillion. Republicans chafed at his definition of infrastructure, which included fighting climate change and providing care for children and the elderly.

The White House later trimmed the offer to about $1.7 trillion in an unsuccessful bid to win the Republican support needed for any plan to get the 60 votes required to advance most legislation in the evenly split 100-seat Senate.

A major sticking point had been how to pay for the investments. Biden has pledged not to increase taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year, while Republicans are determined to protect a 2017 cut in corporate taxes.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told reporters that the spending would be paid for with some unused COVID-19 aid money, unemployment funds unused by states and stricter federal tax collections.

Thune said there were questions about whether watchdogs, including the Congressional Budget Office, would recognize some of the funding mechanisms as achieving savings.

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