- The Washington Times - Monday, July 26, 2021

Talks bogged down Monday on the Senate’s roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package as pressure from both the left and right put the deal in jeopardy.

Lawmakers at the center of the deal are struggling to draft a proposal acceptable to all sides but time is running out. The deal is hung up on disputes over how much to spend on public transit, water projects and broadband internet, and disagreements about how to pay for the flood of new spending.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, is pushing for an initial vote on the package before lawmakers leave for a month-long vacation next week.

Mr. Schumer said on Monday that lawmakers would remain in Washington for how long it was necessary to “finish the bipartisan infrastructure bill.”

“We have reached a critical moment. The bipartisan group of senators has had nearly five weeks of negotiations since they first announced an agreement with President Biden,” said Mr. Schumer. “It’s time for everyone to get to yes and produce an outcome for the American people.”

The negotiations are impeded, in part, by disagreements over how to pay for upgrades to the nation’s roads, bridges, railways and airports without raising taxes.

The senators working to fashion the deal have proposed that more than $570 billion of the $1.2 trillion come from new revenue. The other $630 billion is to be repurposed from funds already authorized for coronavirus relief.

Finding new revenue sources, however, has been difficult. An initial proposal to give the Internal Revenue Service more power to crack down on tax cheats was viewed as both unacceptable and inefficient.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat involved in the negotiations, said that while discussions had slowed, the process was still ongoing.

“I think we’re still on a track to get this done, you’ve got to make sure if people keep talking,” said Mr. Tester. “You know we were supposed to have it ready for prime time tomorrow. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be ready for prime time,” he said.

Complicating matters, both Democrats and Republicans keep raising expectations for what will be included.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, for instance, has pledged to oppose the package unless it includes money authorizing a water and sanitation bill that passed the Senate this year. “I want to make sure that they are fully funded,” said Mr. Carper, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I’m going to withhold my support until they are fully funded,” he said.

Before Mr. Carper’s demands, the lawmakers crafting the deal had already agreed to include an additional $15 billion for pipe lead contamination clean up.

Similarly, a dispute is brewing over transit funding. Bipartisan lawmakers and the White House initially sought to boost funding for public transit systems, like Amtrak.

GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania has threatened to oppose the overall deal over the increase. Mr. Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee which has purview over public transit, argues the increase is unnecessary.

To bolster his argument, Mr. Toomey points to the nearly $70 billion in emergency assistance that was doled out to public transit during the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Much of the money has yet to be spent, while ridership is nowhere near its pre-pandemic levels.

“Nobody’s talking about cutting transit,” said Mr. Toomey. “The question is, how many tens of billions of dollars on top of the huge increase that they have already gotten is sufficient?” he said.

Apart from public transit, Democrats are also pushing for a bigger share of funding from the federal government’s Highway Trust Fund.

Generally money from the fund has been divided up on an 80-20 split, with the majority going to highways over public transit.

Democrats, though, are pushing to change the formula, arguing that boosting public transit is preferable to building more highways because of climate change.

Bipartisan negotiators say the current infrastructure package already makes significant concessions to mass transit.

“We have one issue outstanding. And we’re not getting much response from the Democrats on it. It’s about mass transit,” Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said during a Sunday appearance on ABC. “Our transit number is generous. We increased transit in this proposal. We also increased the formula going forward,” he said.

Adding to the worries for Republicans is Democratic leaders’ pledge to move the infrastructure package in tandem with a $3.5 trillion social welfare bill.

The bigger legislation, which is packed with liberal priorities, is set to pass without Republican votes in a process known as budget reconciliation, which allows some spending and tax measures to avoid the 60-vote threshold needed to get past a filibuster and pass with 51 votes.

For some Republicans, that linkage raised fears that their willingness to compromise will only result in Democrats getting everything they want.

Former President Donald Trump made exactly that argument on Monday when urging GOP senators to oppose the infrastructure package.

Senate Republicans are being absolutely savaged by Democrats on the so-called ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure bill,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Don’t do the infrastructure deal, wait until after we get proper election results in 2022 or otherwise, and regain a strong negotiating stance.”

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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