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Senate Democrats raise concerns about bipartisan infrastructure talks

▶ Watch Video: Biden heads to Europe after infrastructure negotiations break down

Washington — A bipartisan group of senators is working on crafting a deal on infrastructure legislation, after President Biden ended negotiations with a team of Republican senators on Tuesday. But some Democrats have raised concerns about any agreement that may be reached by this bipartisan group of moderates, worrying that it will not address some of the key provisions included in Mr. Biden’s original infrastructure proposal.

“I think it’s been made clear to those negotiators that we’re rooting them on, but there’s no guarantee that you can get 50 Democratic votes for the package they produce,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told reporters at the Capitol on Thursday, saying he was concerned that climate-related provisions and certain transit improvements might by excluded.

Any final infrastructure legislation would require 60 votes to advance in the Senate, and Democrats have a narrow 50-seat majority, meaning they need 10 Republicans to support the bill. The bipartisan group is trying to reach a deal that will be amenable to enough Republicans to reach that 60-vote threshold, instead of attempting to pass a bill through budget reconciliation, a lengthy and complicated process which would allow the legislation to be approved without any Republican votes.

But Murphy pointed out that the negotiators cannot afford to lose any Democratic support either, if they want to gain the necessary 60 votes.

“I don’t know that there’s a scenario in which you can lose 10 Democrats, and get 60 votes in the Senate, so this package ultimately is going to have to have the sign off of every single Democrat,” Murphy said, adding that he believed “there aren’t super high expectations” in the Democratic caucus about what the group would be able to produce.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that Democrats were proceeding along “two tracks”: trying to craft a bipartisan deal, and preparing to use the reconciliation process.

“Both are moving forward,” Schumer said.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, speaks during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, June 9, 2021. 

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Several Democrats have raised concerns about climate provisions falling by the wayside in any eventual deal.

“From my perspective, no climate, no deal,” said Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico told reporters he would be willing to address climate-related infrastructure in a second bill, but it had to be addressed.

“At the end of the day, as part of this process, whether that’s two bills or one, I don’t really care, but if climate isn’t really addressed in a robust way I think we will have failed,” Heinrich said.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand also expressed concern that negotiators excising “human” infrastructure measures from the proposal, such as expanding home care for elderly and disabled individuals.

“I really believe we have a moment in time right now where we need a bold response, one that actually acknowledges the severe decline in our economic strength and stability, and the decline in all aspects of infrastructure — not just our hard traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges and sewers and high speed rail and rural broadband and IT — all essential, but we saw during the pandemic that the softer side the human infrastructure, really, was lacking,” Gillibrand told reporters on Thursday.

Gillibrand noted that millions of women lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic because they needed to remain home as primary caretakers of elderly relatives or children whose schools were closed. She blamed this loss on the lack of a national paid leave, and of “protected and funded” daycare.

“If you aren’t intending to rebuild all of the infrastructure to get the economy back up and running, then you’re really preferencing just some workers, and you’re not actually serious about a full economic recovery,” Gillibrand argued. Mr. Biden’s $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan is accompanied by a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which deals with some of the “human” infrastructure priorities like child care and health care — but is even less likely to be supported by Republicans than the jobs plan.

Some Democrats have also stressed that if it is possible for a deal to be reached, it needs to happen soon.

“I worry about time being wasted. Even if our Republican colleagues [work in] good faith, we simply do not have the time to delay,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told reporters.

Montana Senator Jon Tester, who is part of the bipartisan negotiations, said it would be “optimal” for a deal to be reached by Thursday.

“Time is of the essence here so, we will continue to work to try to get a deal,” Tester said.

But Republican Senator Mitt Romney, who is leading the bipartisan negotiations, said that a deal will not be achieved by Thursday. He added that there was a “general agreement” for the top line of the bill, but said “it’s not locked in and concrete at this stage.”

“It depends on having ten people agree. So we wrote something that we’d like to release today, but we have to have ten people agree,” Romney told reporters.

Democrats and Republicans have sparred over how the proposal should be paid for, although there seemed to be some room for agreement on indexing the gas tax to inflation. Romney said the group is discussing this option, and Democratic Senator Dick Durbin told reporters that indexing the gas tax to inflation “ultimately has to happen.”

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