Democrats reach deal on $3.5T price tag for infrastructure bill

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Budget Committee Democrats, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have reached a deal on a $3.5 trillion price tag for a Democratic-only infrastructure package.

Schumer, emerging from an hours-long meeting with Budget Committee Democrats, said they had reached a deal on the budget resolution — which greenlights reconciliation, the process Democrats will use to bypass a GOP filibuster on the infrastructure bill — including a $3.5 trillion top-line figure. President Biden is going to meet with Senate Democrats on Wednesday as Democrats work to lock down support for the deal.

“The budget committee has come to an agreement. The budget resolution with instructions will be $3.5 trillion,” Schumer said, speaking to reporters with Sanders and other members of the panel. “Every major program that President Biden has asked us for is funded in a robust way.”

The deal will also include funding for expanding Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing and addressing climate change — key asks from progressives, including Sanders. A Democratic aide familiar with the deal said that the budget resolution will also include language prohibiting taxes from being raised on individuals who make less than $400,000 or small businesses.

“What this legislation says among many, many other things … is the wealthy and large corporations are going to start paying their fair share of taxes so that we can protect the working families in this country,” Sanders told reporters.

The agreement is a significant breakthrough for Democrats’ infrastructure push as the party faces a tight timeline and even tighter margins to advance Biden’s sweeping jobs and families plan.

Schumer has vowed to hold votes on two pieces before the Senate breaks for the August recess: a smaller bipartisan deal for $1.2 trillion over eight years and the budget resolution that includes the instructions for and sets up a separate Democratic-only bill.

Senate Democrats want to bring the bipartisan infrastructure bill to the floor as soon as next week, though negotiators have warned that is an ambitious pace. Democrats didn’t say on Tuesday night when specifically they will be ready to take the budget resolution to the floor.

To pass both the budget resolution and a subsequent $3.5-trillion infrastructure bill through the Senate Democrats will need total unity from all 50 of their members. Democrats declined to say on Tuesday night if they had unified support. Though Democrats want to pass the budget resolution and the bipartisan bill before the August break, Schumer hasn’t said when the Senate would take up the Democratic-only infrastructure bill itself and it is expected to wait until fall.

“We are very proud of this plan. We know we have a long road to go. We’re going to get this done for the sake of making average Americans’ lives a whole lot better for us,” Schumer said.

Some of the biggest swing votes for Democrats aren’t on the budget committee, underscoring the work ahead as Biden and Schumer try to build support from the entire Senate Democratic caucus.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who aren’t on the panel, have signaled they are open to using reconciliation to pass a larger Democratic-only infrastructure bill in addition to the bipartisan package they are currently negotiating. But they haven’t endorsed a specific price tag.

Manchin previously suggested to ABC News that he was interested in a smaller figure, saying that “if that’s $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or $2 trillion, whatever that comes out to be over a 10-year period, that’s what I would be voting for.”

He also told reporters earlier Tuesday that he believed both the Democratic-only bill and the bipartisan package had to be fully paid for.

“I think everything should be paid for. We’ve put enough free money out,” Manchin said.

In a boon, Democrats indicated on Tuesday night that they would be able to meet his red line after Schumer first told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he believed it was possible.

“The plan we’ve put together, which is fully paid for, will make the investments in American families, will take on what Bernie and frankly led mostly by [Sen.] Sheldon Whitehouse [D-R.I.], the existential threat of climate change, in a way that will meet the needs of leading the world on this critical issue,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the Budget Committee and a key negotiator, told reporters.

The top-line figure is also significantly less than the $6 trillion pushed by Sanders, a figure that was met with heavy skepticism by other members of the caucus whose votes he would ultimately need to support the spending figure.

Sanders, asked about coming in so far below his pushed for price tag, stressed that he viewed the agreement on a $3.5 trillion price tag as significant.

“This is the most significant piece of legislation passed since the Great Depression, and I’m delighted to be part of having helped to put it together,” he told reporters.

Democrats won’t get any GOP help to pass a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill. But combined with the separate bipartisan package, it’s expected to bring the total of new spending on infrastructure to $4.1 trillion.

Members of the bipartisan group, which Warner belongs to, also met in the Capitol on Tuesday night amid pressure to finalize their deal by the end of the week.

Members of the group said on Tuesday night that they had made progress, but were still working out a couple dozen issues. They have a goal of resolving those and wrapping up their talks by Thursday, when the Senate typically leaves town for the week.

“There’s a goal to have all member-level decisions made by the time we end the session on Thursday,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who has led the bipartisan talks with Sinema, told reporters.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) noted that the Thursday deadline was “so we can get a bill to the floor next week, that’s the goal.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), another member of the group, added that Thursday was when they wanted to have the “knotty issues” resolved.

“I think we are all just trying to keep on an aggressive timeline here,” Murkowski said. “We are using Thursday let’s work through all of the knotty issues that we have and get those resolved.”

To pass a bipartisan bill, negotiators need to win over 60 votes. The group currently has 22 members, including 11 Republicans.

But they’ve faced skepticism from progressives, who want an “iron clad” guarantee on the Democratic-only bill. Meanwhile, some GOP senators have suggested their support could waiver if the group isn’t able to adequately pay for the bill. Though the bipartisan bill would spend $1.2 trillion over eight years only $579 billion is new money.

But even the Republican senators who are viewed as soft supporters of the bipartisan deal, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), attended Tuesday night’s bipartisan meeting to continue to hash out the details.

“There’s also I think a belief, a widely held belief in our conference that we ought to do everything we can to get credible offsets to help pay for it and at this point I would say it’s still an open question about whether they’ll be able to get many of these to score,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Republican, told reporters earlier Tuesday.

Via The Hill

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