President Biden on Tuesday injected himself into the Senate’s wavering negotiations on a bipartisan infrastructure package and expressed optimism about keeping the deal alive after meeting with one of the chief Democratic negotiators, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The president and Ms. Sinema emerged from the meeting “optimistic” about sealing the deal despite a recent series of setbacks, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
“Both understand — having lived through many iterations of legislating and negotiating before — that it is always at the tail end that you have some of the trickiest discussions,” Ms. Psaki said at a White House press briefing. “But again, they remain quite positive about the forward momentum and the path we see for the infrastructure package at this point in time.”
In an interview with Politico, Ms. Sinema said her sit-down with Mr. Biden was “productive,” adding that talks are “moving forward.
The meeting signals a desire by Mr. Biden to become more personally involved in finalizing the details of the roughly $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal as negotiations stall on Capitol Hill.
The negotiations are bogged down, in part, by how to pay for upgrades to the nation’s roads and bridges without raising taxes.
Mr. Biden, according to sources, has been calling senators involved in the deal urging them to come to an agreement before Congress leaves for a month-long break at the start of August.
“There are no Democratic roads or Republican bridges — infrastructure impacts us all and I believe we’ve got to come together to find solutions,” Mr. Biden said on social media. “That’s why I’m working across the aisle to pass the bipartisan infrastructure framework.”
The senators working to fashion the deal have proposed that more than $570 billion of the $1.2 trillion comes from new revenue. The other $630 billion is to be repurposed from funds already authorized for coronavirus relief.
Finding new revenue sources 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. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican involved in the negotiations, said that while discussions had slowed, the process was still ongoing.
“We’re looking at everything,” said Mr. Romney. “Making sure that we’re using those things that would otherwise not be used.”
Complicating matters is that Democratic lawmakers keep raising expectations for what will be included.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Tom Carper, 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, Delaware Democrat. “I’m going to withhold my support until they are fully funded.”
Similarly, a dispute is brewing over transit funding. Democrats are seeking to boost funding for public transportation systems, like Amtrak.
Republicans have threatened to oppose the overall deal over such increases.
GOP lawmakers point 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.
Adding to the worries for Republicans is a pledge by Democratic 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.