Bipartisan Senate group announces infrastructure deal

A bipartisan group of 10 senators Thursday afternoon announced an agreement on a “compromise framework” to invest $1.2 trillion in infrastructure over the next eight years.

Sources familiar with the deal said it would provide $974 billion over five years. They also said the framework is focused on “core, physical infrastructure” and would not increase taxes, though it includes an option to index the gas tax to inflation.

Further, it would provide $579 billion in new funding over what would otherwise be spent without any new legislation.

“Our group — comprised of 10 senators, five from each party — has worked in good faith and reached a bipartisan agreement on a realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies,” members of the bipartisan group said in a joint statement.

“This investment would be fully paid for and not include tax increases,” they added.

The statement was issued by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), the leaders of the group that also includes Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), John Tester (D-Mont.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

The senators cautioned that the deal still needs to be presented to the Senate Republican conference and the White House to see if there’s broader buy-in.

But they said they “remain optimistic this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support from both parties and meet America’s infrastructure needs.”

The bipartisan framework would spend only a fraction of the $4.1 trillion President Biden has called for and includes an option to index the gas tax to inflation, which could make it a tough sell within the broader Senate Democratic caucus.

“We have a tentative agreement on the pay-fors, yes, but that’s among the five Democrats and the five Republicans. It has not been taken to our respective caucuses or the White House so we’re in the middle of the process. We’re not at the end of the process, not at the beginning but we’re in the middle,” Romney told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Romney said there’s also a tentative agreement to the overall top-line spending number.

“I believe it’s complete but others may have a different point of view,” he added.

Collins hailed the agreement as a “significant” sign of progress.

“Among the 10 of us there is a tentative agreement on a framework but obviously there’s a long ways to go. I would not say that we have the leaders on board or we have started negotiating with the White House but I think having 10 senators come together and reach an agreement on a framework is significant,” she said.

Portman emphasized the agreement would not raise taxes, reflecting the broader GOP review that pegging the gas tax to inflation would not amount to a true tax increase.

“Pleased to report our group of 5 Republicans and 5 Democrats have worked in good faith and reached a bipartisan agreement on a compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure without any tax hikes,” he said on Twitter.

The gas tax was last raised in 1993 and Biden has previously indicated he is not a fan of indexing it.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier on Thursday that Republicans “haven’t given up hope” for a bipartisan infrastructure deal with the Biden administration.

“We haven’t given up hope that we’ll be able to reach a deal on something really important for the country that we really need to accomplish, and that is a major infrastructure bill,” McConnell said during an interview with Fox News.

“Yeah, I think it’s clearly possible. We haven’t given up on reaching an agreement on infrastructure. … I think there’s a good chance we can get there,” he added.

Republican members of the bipartisan group who met with McConnell in his Capitol office on Wednesday said the GOP leader is “open” to their proposal.

A Democratic senator briefed on the proposal said the top-line spending number of $1.2 trillion is “good” but warned that finding broader agreement within the Senate on pay-fors may prove to be a tricky task.

“I’m optimistic. The number’s good,” the senator said. “One of the major flaws of the previous [Republican offer] was the lack of robust funding for rail and for transit. This addresses that.”

The lawmaker cautioned the debate over the pay-fors is what’s going to decide whether it survives.

The proposal to index the gas tax to inflation is already running into opposition from some Democrats.

Tester, a member of the bipartisan group, told reporters early Thursday afternoon that “we put out a top line” but cautioned some of the pay-fors still need to be ironed out.

Capito, who laid the groundwork for the deal over six weeks of negotiations with the White House, said she knew members of the bipartisan group were very close to a deal on the broad outlines of a scaled-down infrastructure spending package and predicted it would be similar to what she offered to Biden in recent weeks.

“They were pretty close, I think, the last time I talked to them,” she said.

Republican senators who were involved in crafting the agreement pointed out that Biden indicated to Capito in negotiations last month that he wanted any deal to provide at least $600 billion in new money for infrastructure. They say the new bipartisan plan comes very close to meeting that goal.

“I haven’t seen the details of their report but I think a lot of what they have is a lot of what I had in terms of definitionally what infrastructure is,” she added.

Cassidy, one of the Republican negotiators in the bipartisan group, said a key difference between what Senate Republicans outlined last month and what the group of 10 Democrats and Republicans are putting together is the new package would include energy provisions that Biden wants.

“This will go back through committees, it will go through Finance [Committee] for the pay-fors, we still have to interact with the president but as far as the group’s concerned, we have a final offer,” Cassidy said Thursday.

The Louisiana Republican said the next step is to sell the bipartisan deal to the White House and the Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses.

“We’d have to, again, have our colleagues, whichever party you’re in, buy into it,” he said, adding the group has to “make sure the White House is OK with it.”

Cassidy said the Senate group’s top-line spending number is similar to the $1.25 trillion infrastructure spending framework the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus unveiled earlier in the week.

That group’s plan would provide $762 billion in new spending over eight years.

“The Problem Solvers passed something which [is] pretty similar to ours in terms of top line and with the same categories and roughly the same everything else,” he said. “It’s all positive.”

Asked why Biden would accept the deal after he rejected Capito’s proposal, which was not drastically different, Cassidy pointed to a new energy section.

“We have an energy section in ours that in my conversation with the president said he really wanted,” he said.

Cassidy said McConnell expressed encouragement to Republican members of the group at Wednesday’s meeting.

“We started with Leader McConnell and he’s said based on what he’s heard he’s open to it,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) was more circumspect Thursday. He said he wanted to review the details more closely.

“I’ve asked for paper. I’ll go look at it,” he said.

Via The Hill 

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