- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2021

President Biden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers struck a deal on infrastructure Thursday, although it remains to be seen if the nearly $1 trillion package can garner widespread support in Congress. 
“We have a deal,” said Mr. Biden, speaking from the White House driveway surrounded by both Democratic and Republican senators. “We made serious compromises on both ends.”

The agreement comes after months of back and forth between lawmakers of both parties and the White House. In recent weeks a group of 21 senators — 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — have worked together to craft a compromise focusing exclusively on “hard infrastructure” — roads, bridges, ports and other transportation systems.

The group agreed to a tentative “framework” on Wednesday after meeting with senior members of the White House’s domestic policy team. Although few details have been released about the proposal, it would spend roughly $1 trillion over the next five to eight years.

Of the sum, more than $550 billion comes from new revenue streams that have yet to be made public. Sources, however, say that the proposal is fully paid for and does not raise corporate or income taxes.

While details are sparse, the proposal is expected to include an eclectic mix of solutions for how to pay for the new spending. This is set to include potentially broader guidelines for the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax cheats, hikes in the gasoline tax and tapping unspent coronavirus relief funds.

It is unclear if such accounting tactics will be enough, according to Senate Republican Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

“A lot of the pay-fors are a question of whether or not they’re scorable,” said Mr. Thune, noting the budgeting hurdles the negotiators face. “There are pay-fors that may or may not be blessed by [the Congressional Budget Office] and the Joint Committee on Taxation as actually achieving savings.”

Even if Mr. Biden blesses the infrastructure plan, the deal is by no means assured passage.

Progressive Democrats, in particular, are threatening to derail the deal if they do not get more money for climate change programs and “human infrastructure” such as child care.

Progressives say they will oppose the bipartisan package unless they are guaranteed the non-infrastructure-related spending will be pushed through separately via the budget reconciliation process. The process allows spending bills to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes, overcoming any GOP filibuster.

“There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have a reconciliation bill passed by the Senate,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, “We’re not bringing it to the floor unless both bills pass in the Senate.”

The problem, however, is that to secure a commitment on reconciliation all 50 Democrats are needed. At the moment, it is unclear whether that will be possible. Centrist Democrats, including Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have opted to take part in the bipartisan negotiations, rather than deal explicitly with Democrats.

“To say that one [bill is] being held hostage to the other — that doesn’t seem to be fair to me. But they’re going to make those decisions,” said Mr. Manchin. “But we have to see what’s in their mind before I can say, ‘Oh yes, you vote for this and I’ll vote for that.’”

“I want to sign up for what’s in the [bipartisan] plan that makes sense, keeps us competitive, and also takes care of the needs of Americans,” he said.

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

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