Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer signaled on Wednesday that Democrats would move forward alone on ramming through an infrastructure-related climate change package, regardless of how bipartisan talks on the topic shake out.
“Discussions about infrastructure, both physical and human, are proceeding along two tracks,” said the New York Democrat. “The first track is bipartisan and I understand there’s been some progress. The second track pulls in elements of President Biden’s American jobs and families plan and will be considered by the Senate even if it does not have bipartisan support.”
Mr. Schumer’s “two-track” strategy reflects the reality Democrats face in a Senate split 50-50 between both parties. Since most non-spending legislation requires at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, Democrats fret that any bipartisan infrastructure package that Republicans can support will not include extensive climate change provisions.
As such, the majority leader is eyeing using the budget reconciliation process, which allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes, to push through the controversial provisions unable to garner GOP backing.
Mr. Schumer took the first step toward that process during a meeting Wednesday with Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee. Chaired by the self-described socialist, independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, the Budget Committee is responsible for drafting reconciliation resolutions.
“I will instruct members to ensure that any budget resolution puts the United States on track to reduce carbon pollution at a scale commensurate with the climate crisis,” said Mr. Schumer.
The move comes one day after progressives within the Senate Democratic Conference signaled they would not support any bipartisan infrastructure package without a pledge that climate change will be addressed.
“We’re saying that there absolutely has to be a guaranteed deal that climate is built into these infrastructure bills,” said Sen. Edward Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, “and that it matches the problem that has to be solved.”
Progressives, in particular, are urging Mr. Schumer and President Biden to either scuttle the bipartisan talks and move forward alone via reconciliation or agree to use the process to ram through a climate-change bill at a later date.
“If there is no climate, there is no deal,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat.
Threats from the left emerged as a bipartisan group of 10 lawmakers — led by Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah — has forged an infrastructure deal they hope is acceptable to all sides.
The proposal, which has yet to secure the support of the White House, would allot $1.2 trillion toward 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.
While the deal has been praised by some moderate Democrats and Republicans, it is unclear if it will generate bipartisan support.
GOP lawmakers have scoffed at backing another big spending bill after voting to pass several trillions dollars worth of coronavirus relief last year. Some deficit hawks, like GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, have already signaled they are unlikely to back any infrastructure package with a price tag above $1 trillion.
“There is bipartisan support for needed investment in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Mr. Johnson. “Unfortunately, there is also bipartisan support for spending money we don’t have.”
Republicans are also concerned that giving Mr. Biden the facade of bipartisanship, especially if Democrats plan to push through their controversial climate change agenda along party lines anyway.
“If they go straight to reconciliation, I think it makes it look like all of these negotiations were just a big fraud in the first place and they were just doing that to give their members some cover of bipartisanship,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota.
Given the unease, most believe that if a bipartisan infrastructure package does pass it will rely on nearly universal support from Democrats, something that has given progressives leverage in the process.
“I don’t know that there’s a scenario in which you can lose 10 Democrats and get 60 votes in the Senate [to overcome a filibuster], so this package ultimately is going to have to have the sign-off of every single Democrat,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat.