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Why The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Is Facing Difficulties
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Why The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Is Facing Difficulties

A tentative agreement reached Thursday by a group of ten senators, five Republicans and five Democrats, aimed at overhauling the nation's infrastructure system, as called for by President Joe Biden, faces a long road to passage.

The group, led by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), drafted a “framework” this week totaling about $1 trillion in investments on traditional physical infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, and waterways. The agreement, according to the senators, would be fully paid for and would not include any new tax increases, a Republican red line.

“We are discussing our approach with our respective colleagues and the White House, and we remain optimistic that this can lay the groundwork for broad bipartisan support and meet America’s infrastructure needs,” the senators said in a statement.

Notably, the group did not release any details about the agreement or appear in public to promote their work, implying that it is even more shaky than they are letting on.

The biggest issue for the bipartisan group is math: to pass legislation in the Senate, you need 60 votes, and they currently only have 10 for a general framework. Trying to get more Republicans on board could bleed Democratic support, and vice versa.

“It’s a difficult path to take,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told Stardia. “If you have a group of five Republicans and five Democrats, that means you only have five Republicans, and the next five will cost you five Democrats.”

Already, some Democratic senators are outraged that key investments to combat climate change have been left out of the bipartisan talks. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass. ), one of the chamber's most outspoken climate hawks, has threatened to vote against the agreement if it does not include robust measures to address the world's growing climate threat.

“They have a package that is climate denial disguised as bipartisanship... No climate, no deal,” Markey said on MSNBC Thursday.

It's unclear whether Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who says he's still "listening," will support the agreement; his opposition could sink it, as he's shown on other issues in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has drawn its own red line: indexing the gas tax to inflation or requiring electric vehicles to pay a mileage fee to help fund infrastructure spending would violate Biden's pledge not to raise taxes on people earning less than $400,000, according to a person familiar with the administration's thinking.

The bipartisan Senate group has proposed indexing the federal gas tax, which has the support of some top congressional Democrats; they also want to repurpose COVID-19 relief funds that have yet to be spent to help pay for their infrastructure package, which most Democrats oppose; and their proposal would be fully paid for without raising corporate taxes.

Aside from the thorny financing issues, the two sides are still far apart on the size of the package: the new Senate agreement, while larger than a previous Republican offer, falls $400 billion short of Biden's request for $1 trillion in new infrastructure spending.

The White House has made it clear that the bipartisan Senate gang isn't the only game in town. Congressional Democrats will soon begin a special budget process known as reconciliation, even as the Biden administration seeks GOP votes on infrastructure. Reconciliation will allow the party to avoid a filibuster and pass a bill unilaterally on a party-line vote.

Top Democrats are skeptical of the bipartisan talks, counting down the days until the annual summer recess to produce an infrastructure bill.

“I look at the calendar, and I see two more weeks in June, three weeks in July, one in August, and then we’re in the middle of September. I mean, zoom. It’s gone,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters Thursday.

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