Bipartisan Efforts Win the Day As Senators, White House Strike Infrastructure Deal
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday announced he’s struck an infrastructure deal with a bipartisan group of senators that will provide about $579 billion in new investments in broadband internet, roads, bridges and the electric grid.
The deal’s overall price tag — $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight — is significantly less than the president originally proposed, but does accomplish most of his broader goals.
Speaking to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House on Thursday, Biden said “I think it’s really important we’ve all agreed that none of us got all that we wanted.”
“When we can find common ground, working across party lines, that is what I will seek to do,” Biden said as he stood beside a group of Republican and Democratic senators.
He called the deal a “true bipartisan effort” and said it broke the ice “that too often has kept us frozen in place.”
Later, back at the Capitol, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., told The Well News the breakthrough actually came on Wednesday, a day he characterized as “tough.”
“There were times when I thought my head was going to explode,” he said.
Still, he said, he thought the president struck the right tone in his comments at the White House. “I think they will be very helpful,” he said.
But Warner also acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go on finalizing the infrastructure package and the wide array of mechanisms that will be used to pay for it.
“Even if this were super fast-tracked, it will still take weeks to write,” he said.
Both Biden and the bipartisan group of senators indicated the infrastructure plan will now move forward on two tracks — the “deal” representing one course of action and a much larger package of spending and tax increases moving forward through the process of reconciliation.
“How they’ll mesh, what items we’ll need to revisit, what the timing will be, we don’t know,” Warner said.
For his part, the president made clear, he expects both packages to hit his desk at the same time.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it,” he said, stressing both bills — which together accomplish nearly all of his top legislative priorities — are a “tandem.”
Significantly, the package the White House and the senators struck a deal on — now called the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework” — will not be paid for with the corporate tax hike the president had originally proposed or the gas tax Republicans sought, but Biden rejected.
Instead, the money will come from unspent COVID-19 relief funds and from expanded IRS enforcement efforts aimed at reducing tax cheats.
Other revenue is expected to be garnered from lease sales for the 5G telecommunication spectrum and unspecified sales from the strategic petroleum reserve.
Both sides are also hoping that the project will generate enough economic activity — what the White House is calling the “macroeconomic impact of infrastructure investment” — that it will defray some of the costs.
A separate infrastructure finance program would leverage $20 billion in federal money to produce $180 billion in private financing on infrastructure construction.
While the talk before the microphones was optimistic, the patchwork nature of the funding scheme gave others pause.
Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a Washington, D.C. fiscal watchdog group, responded to the announcement of the deal by noting that while “bipartisanship is important … so is our $28 trillion national debt.”
“Working across the aisle to address important needs of our nation is an essential component of a functioning democracy. However, fiscal sustainability is also critical for our future economy, so we must ensure that these investments are fully paid for,” Peterson said.
“There are significant questions about whether the funding mechanisms in this proposal will truly cover the cost of the spending,” he continued. Lawmakers should continue to work together to develop pay fors that are legitimate and” credible, in order to achieve the necessary cost savings to offset the cost of the bill.
“It’s very refreshing to see our lawmakers successfully come together, especially on tough decisions about how to pay for priorities,” Peterson added. “But we are already on pace to add $13 trillion in debt over the next 10 years, so the least lawmakers can do for the next generation is to not increase the rate of digging.
“If we care enough about our future to make these investments, we should also care about reducing the high and rising burden of debt and interest costs that cast a shadow over our economic outlook,” he said.
What taxes might be included in the other, larger budget reconciliation bill is still entirely unknown. Also unknown is how the Democrats will draft a tax package that will garner the support of at least 60 senators — the threshold needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
One person who wasn’t sold on the deal Thursday was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who told Fox News that he was initially optimistic about the announcement of a deal, but quickly soured on it when he learned that Biden wouldn’t sign the infrastructure bill without the tax increases presumably included in the as-yet written budget reconciliation bill.
“It can best be described as a tale of two press conferences,” McConnell said.
“At the first one, the President walks out with a bipartisan group and blesses an infrastructure bill that many of my members are quite optimistic about. And then after all of those people depart the White House, the President goes out for the second press conference and says ‘unless you pass my tax bill, I won’t sign the infrastructure bill.’
“So, what it does is put my members, including myself, who are optimistic about doing a bipartisan infrastructure bill, in the position of our Democratic friends having to guarantee that the 2017 tax bill is unwound,” McConnell said. “That’s our one red line. We are not going to revisit the 2017 tax bill which is an enormous success to the country and led us to the best economy in 50 years as of February 2020. And so I think we have gone from optimism to pessimism.”
Under the plan, $312 billion would go to transportation projects, $65 billion to broadband and $55 billion to waterways. About $47 billion is intended to pay for a catch-all called “resilience” that includes some but not all of the measures Biden wanted to deploy to address climate change.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who was a catalyst for the bipartisan takes, said the deal represents “A historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure.”
“You know there are many who say bipartisanship is dead in Washington,” Sinema said, “We can use bipartisanship to solve these challenges.”
The investments include $109 billion on roads and highways, $15 billion on electric vehicle infrastructure and transit systems and $65 billion toward broadband, among other expenditures on airports, drinking water systems and resiliency efforts to tackle climate change.
The senators from both parties stressed that the deal will create jobs for the economy, a belief that clearly transcended the partisan interests and created a framework for the deal.
“We’re going to keep working together–we’re not finished,” Sen. Mitt Romney said. “But America works, the Senate works.”
Also commenting on the deal Thursday afternoon were Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers conference.
“We want to thank President Biden and our Republican and Democratic Senate partners for negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure framework, which is closely aligned with the Problem Solvers Caucus’ recently unveiled ‘Building Bridges’ physical infrastructure proposal. We are grateful for their partnership over the last few months,” Gottheimer and Fitzpatrick said in a joint statement.
“For far too long, the United States has been underinvesting in our physical infrastructure,” they said. ”This bipartisan infrastructure agreement will help put Americans back to work, boost productivity, and build a strong, successful 21st century infrastructure network that delivers real benefits to every American. Investing in and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure will grow our small businesses, create jobs, enhance our national security, protect our environment, and improve the quality of life for Americans.