Progressive Democrats are threatening to blow up the bipartisan infrastructure package being debated within the Senate if their aggressive climate change demands are not met.
“It’s time for us to go our own way,” said Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and the author of the Green New Deal. “We cannot let Republican calls for bipartisanship deny the American people the climate action that they have been demanding.”
Mr. Markey and his allies are mobilizing to kill the bipartisan package if it is not changed to be sufficiently more “green” or secure a guarantee that Congress will push an aggressive climate change package along party lines at a later date.
“If we’re looking at a deal on infrastructure going to the floor that does not have the energy investments in it and in which there has not been a deal worked out on reconciliation to have those energy investments,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat. “Then absolutely not, I will not support the package.”
The threat comes as a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers — led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, and Mitt Romney, Utah Republican — has forged an infrastructure deal they hope is acceptable to all sides.
The proposal, which has yet to secure the support of President Biden or congressional leaders, would allot $1.2 trillion for fixing the nation’s roads and bridges. To the chagrin of progressives, it does not include strong climate change provisions, apart from providing money for electric vehicle charging stations.
“When the ship sails on infrastructure, energy investments cannot be left on the docks,” Mr. Merkley said. “If there is no climate, there is no deal.”
Progressives fear that by accepting the bipartisan package, they will not get another chance at passing infrastructure-related climate change investments.
“Climate action is good policy and it’s good politics,” said Mr. Markey. “Let’s get this done for the American people … otherwise we will fall into the Republican trap of delay and denial that will ultimately harm and perhaps preclude our ability to act in this very important area.”
The prospect that progressives will be able to hold the bipartisan deal hostage for broader promises on climate change is not out of the realm of possibility. Democrats only hold narrow majorities within both houses of Congress.
In the Senate, the parties are split 50-50, while in the House, Democrats have a single-digit majority.
Unless Democrats choose to move infrastructure through the budget reconciliation process, which allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes, any deal will likely require at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.
Complicating matters is that it is unclear how many Republicans will opt to back the bipartisan deal.
Mr. Biden’s initial talks with Senate Republicans on the topic broke down, in part, over the definition of infrastructure and how to pay for new spending. The White House originally proposed spending about $2.25 trillion on infrastructure, with most of the money earmarked for social welfare and combating climate change.
Although Mr. Biden eventually trimmed his proposal to $1.7 trillion, the administration abandoned negotiations after Republicans refused to back hikes in corporate and income taxes.
While the bipartisan package crafted by Mr. Romney and Ms. Sinema does not raise taxes, Republicans have yet to embrace the proposal although some sound enthusiastic.
“It seems like … they’ve moved the ball in the right direction,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, South Dakota Republican. “I don’t know how many Democrats they can get for something like what they’re talking about, but I think there would be substantial Republican support.”
Despite such statements, however, GOP support is by no means certain. At the moment, Republican lawmakers are weighing whether or not they should support the bipartisan package.
According to several sources, the main sticking point is whether Democrats will have the votes to move a more controversial climate and social agenda through reconciliation. Republican lawmakers are concerned about giving Mr. Biden the facade of bipartisanship, especially if Democrats plan to push forward along party lines anyway.
Ironically, though, the same concerns about reconciliation among Republicans, are considered a “must-have” for Democrats to support the bipartisan package.
“Will the Democrats who are part of this [bipartisan group] be with us on reconciliation on what is not included,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “I think that’s an important question. … That’s a question that’s come up several times and it’s a legitimate question.”