Politics 'Time to pull the plug': Democratic criticism grows of bipartisan infrastructure talks
Where do infrastructure talks go from here now that Biden's negotiations with Republicans collapsed?
As new infrastructure talks begin, old differences with Republicans have already emerged.Weeks of negotiations resulted in little headway, with major differences on costs and taxes going unreconciled. Republicans accused the president of changing his demands and being unwilling to compromise on his insistence on "social infrastructure" while the White House said the Republicans' offers didn't meet America's needs.
Liberal Senate Democrats are unloadingworking on an infrastructure deal, warning that any pared-back measure to win GOP backing almost certainly would fail to deliver on their party's promises and could lead to a revolt from the left.
The criticism is growing louder by the day, underscoring the growing tension within the ranks as moderates urge their colleagues to show patience and as Democratic leaders struggle to find a deal that can pass the 50-50 Senate and please the various factions within their party.
Bipartisan talks sow division among Democrats
Democratic lawmakers are splitting apart over whether it makes sense to continue negotiating with Republicans on a scaled-down infrastructure package after President Biden ended talks with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the lead Republican negotiator on infrastructure. A new group of Senate negotiators is looking to pick up where Biden and Capito left off, but that's not welcome news to progressive Democrats, who think too much time has already been spent trying to reach an elusive bipartisan infrastructure deal.
"Let's face it. It's time to move forward," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, told CNN on the talks with the bipartisan group. "The Republicans have held us up long enough."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal added: "I have no confidence that this bipartisan group will reach a deal. They should have a limited time to do so. I really think it's time to pull the plug now and take action promptly and robustly ... I worry about time being wasted."
"We simply do not have the time to waste," the Connecticut Democrat said.
The public rebuke is happening even as the White House and Senate Democratic leaders are giving negotiators from both parties time to see if they can cut a deal, with a bipartisan group of 10 senators saying Thursday they had reached an agreement "on a comprehensive framework" and it would be "fully paid for and not include tax increases."
After 1st round fails, where do infrastructure talks stand?
Almost as soon as infrastructure talks died, they were resurrected under new leadership. © Samuel Corum/Getty Images While President Joe Biden jets off to Europe to attend to international matters, a coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans are huddled up at the Capitol charting what they hope will be a new path forward on infrastructure. New negotiations bring a whole new host of questions about how a deal on what has become a politically divisive package might be struck and what that deal might look like. Wait. Aren't infrastructure talks over? Think again.
But the details still need to be written and face a tough task in winning enough support to become law.
Democratic leaders say they are pursuing Biden's massive infrastructure and social safety net package along both bipartisan and partisan tracks. As the bipartisan talks continue, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing to begin the budget process next month, setting the stage for advancing a bill along straight party lines, something that can only succeed if all 50 Democrats endorse such a process known as reconciliation.
"We are on two tracks: A bipartisan track and a reconciliation track, and both of them are moving forward," Schumer told CNN Thursday.
Yet a number of Democrats say that whatever bipartisan deal moves forward is unlikely to win wide backing within their caucus.
"I think it's been very clear to those negotiators, that we are rooting them on, but that there is no guarantee that you can get 50 Democratic votes for the package they produce," Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut warned.
Biden World on bipartisan infrastructure talks: Little harm in still trying
The White House sees some positive signs to the new round of negotiations. They also see little downside in letting the talks play out.The move to keep bipartisan negotiations going sparked a round of progressive anger Wednesday as liberals warned their demands need to be met, too, and that prolonged negotiations could hamper other big legislative priorities. But even if it were to move forward on infrastructure with just Democratic support, the White House hasn’t finished one of its most important sales jobs: wooing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.
In particular, Democrats are raising concerns about how the package will be paid for -- as Republican senators say that there would be no tax hikes and as Democrats have demanded new taxes on corporations and high-income earners to pay for the plan. But the bipartisan group is instead looking at redirecting already-enacted Covid-19 relief money, while raising the gas tax subject to inflation -- ideas that a number of Democrats flatly oppose.
Asked about Republicans' refusal to raise taxes to help pay for the plan, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said, "I totally disagree with" it.
The divisions underscore not just political differences within the Democratic caucus, but also regional ones. Many of the lawmakers in the bipartisan group hail from states outside of the Northeast corridor where residents rely heavily on rail and mass transit.
"I get worried when I see groups of senators that don't include members from the Northeast corridor that really care about making sure that we dramatically change transit times," Murphy said.
Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said that he's "certain" that the bipartisan talks won't produce "what I believe we have to do for the people of Pennsylvania," calling for enacting both Biden's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan and $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan.
I've gotten bipartisan infrastructure done; through collaboration and honesty, we can do it again
Through my proposal and continued conversations, I’m committed to the process and seeing a bipartisan infrastructure bill pass through Congress. I call on my friends in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle to make that commitment with me. Young represents Alaska at large. He is a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was the committee's chair from 2001-2007.
But Democrats have a problem: They don't have consensus to pass such a massive bill along straight party lines, as moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona push to pursue bipartisan talks instead.
"Right now we don't have the votes to do that," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who is also engaged in the bipartisan talks, said when asked if she'd back a Democrat-only approach through the reconciliation process.
"I say, let's give it a little more time," said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats. "The legislative process was designed to be slow and cumbersome."
during a critical moment in his presidency, the White House has said the President will be amendable to phone calls while he's abroad. Much of the input from the White House is expected to come from aides who stayed behind, including White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and director of Legislative Affairs Louisa Terrell.
On the Republican side, members of the bipartisan group briefed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday with GOP members telling reporters that McConnell signaled he was "open" to letting the talks play out.
"Mitch McConnell yesterday said he was open to it. That's a good next step," said Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican from Louisiana, who is part of the group trying to hash out a bipartisan deal.
Senators face roadblocks to passing bipartisan infrastructure plan as opposition mounts
Ten senators are trying to sell their colleagues on a bipartisan infrastructure plan, but they are facing skepticism from some Democrats.The bipartisan proposal crafted by 10 senators would focus on transportation, broadband and water, and would not raise taxes to offset costs. A handful of Democrats who seek a broader plan that addresses climate change and social programs, paid for by increasing taxes on corporations or the wealthy, have opposed the framework.
Other Republican leaders, however, have expressed doubt that any deal reached could garner the 10 Republicans needed to overcome a filibuster attempt.
Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Texas Sen. John Cornyn said that the amount of spending proposed would have to adhere close to what Republican negotiators already offered Biden -- roughly $300 billion in new money and $1 trillion in overall spending -- to garner widespread backing in the Republican conference. That number, however, was already rejected by the White House.
"I think he thinks he is going to get a better deal," Cornyn said of Biden's ongoing talks with a new set of Republicans. "But there is nothing that says whatever this group agrees to other Republicans are going to support. To me that is the flaw to this sort of approach."
That talk has liberals concerned that 10 Republicans are unlikely to back any deal -- even one that some of their members endorse.
"No," Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said when asked if would support the bipartisan group's potential agreement.
"In my view, now is the time to finally stand up for the working families of this country. Black and White, Latino, Native American, Asian American, that is what we have got to do," Sanders said. "If your question is: Do I think there are 10 Republicans who are prepared to do that? No, I do not."
Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal .
Senate Democrats in tough races next year, namely Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.), say it's more important for an infrastructure spending bill to be bipartisan than for it to fit in all the priorities that President Biden has outlined and his party base are clamoring for. © The Hill Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal The implications for control of the Senate and House after 2022 are not lost on the Biden White House, and the bloc of vulnerable Democrats could carry significant influence over what direction Democrats and the White House pursue in the weeks to come.