Infrastructure Deal Is Back on Track After Biden’s Assurances

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Moderate Republicans said they believed that the $1.2 trillion bill, which they suggested they could now begin drafting, would have enough G.O.P. support to pass the Senate.

“I was very glad to see the president clarify his remarks because it was inconsistent with everything we had been told along the way,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.
Credit...Pete Marovich for The New York Times

Nicholas Fandos

June 27, 2021, 1:59 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — A fragile bipartisan infrastructure deal appeared to be moving forward once again on Sunday, as moderate Republicans said they had been reassured that President Biden would not hold it hostage while Democrats simultaneously work on a larger, partisan economic package.

After 48 hours of chaos, the statements by leading Republicans prompted a sigh of relief for the White House, where Mr. Biden and top aides had worked through the weekend to keep the eight-year, $1.2 trillion investment to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure from falling apart. G.O.P. negotiators even suggested that they could now begin drafting the bill and said they believed it would win enough Republican votes to pass the Senate next month.

“The waters have been calmed,” said Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah.

Still, the whole episode underscored just how precarious a path the president and his allies face in the months ahead, as they try to steer the two separate and costly spending plans into law. They have laid out a complex strategy in which the success of each bill hinges on the other and the balancing of priorities between not only Republicans and Democrats, but within the Democratic Party itself.

While the bipartisan bill can be passed through regular order if it retains enough Republican support, Democratic leaders plan to use a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold to enact the other half of Mr. Biden’s agenda, which includes tax increases, sweeping climate plans, health care provisions and investments in child care. If they can pull off both, Mr. Biden could burnish his reputation as a bipartisan deal maker and ensure that much of his economic agenda is locked in place.

The immediate cause for Republican concern came just hours after the president and the two parties unveiled with great fanfare on Thursday their plan to invest in crumbling roads, bridges, high-speed internet and green projects. Speaking with reporters later that day, Mr. Biden said he would not sign the bipartisan deal without Congress passing a much more expensive set of tax cuts and spending programs that conservatives loathe.

Republicans, who doubt Democrats can secure the votes needed to pass the second partisan package, balked. They said that they never would have signed onto a deal strictly conditioned on the success of policies they oppose, and Mr. Biden’s team was forced to clean up the comments. After a series of private phone calls, the president issued a lengthy statement on Saturday clarifying that he never meant to threaten a veto and conceding that Republicans were “understandably upset.”

“I was very glad to see the president clarify his remarks because it was inconsistent with everything we had been told along the way,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I’m glad they’ve now been de-linked and we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that is broadly popular not just among members of Congress but the American people.”

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, agreed on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” calling the framework agreed to by the two parties “a great deal.”

“It is actually going to provide the infrastructure that American people want, that they need, that will make our country more prosperous for all Americans, so I hope it’s enough,” he said of Mr. Biden’s clarification. “But I’ll continue to work for the bill.”

For now, the bipartisan deal seems to be having the effect on Democrats that Mr. Biden and party leaders on Capitol Hill were hoping for, as well. Democratic leaders are trying to hold together the narrowest of majorities in the House and the Senate, and some of their most moderate members insisted on trying to find bipartisan common ground on the president’s vast domestic agenda wherever they could.

Pleased that a bipartisan package he helped craft would be moving forward, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democratic swing vote, said on Sunday that he was prepared to back a larger bill using the fast-track process to get around Republicans. He said he was “all for” using it to address “human infrastructure” and was willing to raise corporate tax rates to 25 percent from 21 percent, and capital gains taxes to 28 percent for top earners to finance it.

“We’ve worked on the one track and we’re going to work on the second track and there’s a lot of need,” Mr. Manchin said on ABC.

But Mr. Manchin dismissed financing the spending with more debt, as prominent liberals like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have argued. And citing concerns about the nation’s debt, he said the kind of overall price tag Mr. Sanders was pushing was simply too high for him.

“If Republicans don’t want to make adjustments to a tax code which I think is weighted and unfair, then I’m willing to go reconciliation,” Mr. Manchin said. “But if they think in reconciliation I’m going to throw caution to the wind and go to $5 trillion or $6 trillion when we can only afford $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or maybe $2 trillion and what we can pay for, then I can’t be there.”

That position foreshadows a bumpy road still ahead for Democrats. With their party’s hold on Washington potentially fleeting, progressives are adamant that this might represent their best and only chance to enact key policy planks like expanded health care access, aggressive climate policy and durable new social programs to support working Americans.

“Frankly, we really need to understand that this is our one big shot, not just in terms of family, child care, Medicare, but on climate change,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, said on “Meet the Press.”

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, has said he hopes to pass the bipartisan agreement through the Senate before it departs for the annual August recess, as well as a budget framework that would lay the groundwork for the reconciliation process.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that the House would then use its leverage to ensure that one bill was not passed without the other. Both chambers would aim to send the bills to Mr. Biden by the end of September.

The White House has agreed to that plan, and on Sunday, Cedric L. Richmond, Mr. Biden’s senior adviser, said it was comfortable leaving the sequencing and legislative haggling to the two congressional leaders.

“The speaker is very capable. The speaker is great,” Mr. Richmond said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “And we expect to get two bills to the president’s desk so that he can sign both of them.”

Christopher Cameron contributed reporting.

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