WASHINGTON (AP) – A bipartisan group of senators are considering an infrastructure deal with $ 579 billion in new spending that could be rolled out as early as Thursday as negotiators try to strike a nearly $ 1 trillion deal on the priority absolute of President Joe Biden, according to those informed of the plan.
The 10 Senators gathered behind closed doors, encouraged by Biden to continue working on the effort after walking away from a Republican-only proposal this week unable to resolve the differences. Senators are informing their colleagues privately and have warned that changes could still be made.
“We have a piece of paper with each line and a total,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters on Capitol Hill. He declined to provide further details. “Can be adjusted and changed?” Sure.”
The president and Congress struggled to reach agreement on his ideas for investing in infrastructure, stuck on the scope of all road, highway and other projects and how to pay for them. Lawmakers say the group’s agreement-in-principle represents significant progress in crafting a bill that can pass such a divided Congress this year, but they are also aware that it could easily collapse.
At this size, the new five-year package would be more than Republicans’ previous effort of $ 330 billion in new spending in a $ 928 billion package, but still below the $ 1.7 trillion on eight years that Biden is looking for. It appears the group is experiencing the same issues that Biden and top Republican negotiator, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, faced in agreeing on how to pay.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., A senior negotiator, declined to disclose the final tab. When asked if the new spending amounted to $ 600 billion, he replied that “the president said that was his target. So I don’t think anyone felt like they had to go over their goal. “
Another member of the group, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Said they were “pretty close” on a leading amount, but still debating how to pay it. One option is to include potential income from uncollected income taxes, he said.
“We still have to talk,” Tester said.
A Republican outside the group, Senator Mike Braun of Indiana, said he was told the package would provide nearly $ 1 trillion, including $ 579 billion in new spending compared to the reference for transport projects.
Braun also said part of it would be paid for with untapped COVID-19 relief funds, which was a failure for the White House.
“They came up with similar things to what I think Capito was working on, but I understand it would be a little more money,” he said.
Biden instructed senators to continue working as he left on his first trip abroad after talks broke down this week with Capito and GOP senators.
The president is looking for a significant investment not only in roads, highways and bridges, but also in broadband electric vehicle charging stations and other aspects of what he sees as the new economy, funded by an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
Republicans prefer to focus more narrowly on repairing existing transportation systems, with smaller investments elsewhere. They oppose any tax increase to pay for new spending.
With the Senate tightly divided, 50-50, and most laws requiring 60 votes to pass an obstruction, Biden is seeking a bipartisan deal to secure passage. At the same time, he’s also asking Democrats who control the House and Senate to prepare to pass parts of the package themselves, under special budget rules that allow approval with 51 votes in the Senate.
In the equally divided Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the deciding vote.
Meanwhile, a House panel on Thursday morning brought forward legislation that serves as a cornerstone of that chamber’s infrastructure efforts. The bill seeks to increase federal spending on roads, bridges, public transit and rail. The $ 547 billion package was passed mostly along party lines by a 38-26 vote and will likely be considered by the entire House later this month.
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