Friday, September 17, 2021

Infrastructure talks put Biden’s entire agenda at risk

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WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden’s latest leap in the Senate’s upward and downward efforts to achieve a bipartisan $ 1 trillion infrastructure deal comes with even more at stake than his coveted plans to boost highway, rail and road projects. other public works.

The outcome of the infrastructure negotiation, which for weeks has faced hurdle after hurdle, will impact what could be the jewel in the crown of its legacy. That would be their hopes of a subsequent federal infusion of $ 3.5 billion for the costs of education and healthcare for families, an expansion of Medicare and efforts to curb climate change.

Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., will need the support of all moderate and progressive Democrats to push the $ 3.5 billion bill in the Senate 50-50, with the tiebreaker vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. If the infrastructure talks fail, it may be more difficult for the moderates, who rank their projects as their top priority, to back the $ 3.5 trillion follow-up plan, which is already making them cringe because of its price and likely tax increases in the country. rich and corporations.

“I would say if the bipartisan infrastructure bill collapses, everything collapses,” West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of the most conservative Democrats in his chamber, warned reporters this week.

That may well be a stretch, as moderates like him will face enormous pressure from Biden, Schumer and others to back. the $ 3.5 billion package, whatever the fate of the bipartisan plan. But it illustrates a balancing act between centrists and progressives that top Democrats must confront.

“If infrastructure collapses, which I hope won’t, you would have a hard time getting some Democrats” to back the $ 3.5 trillion bill, House No. 2 leader said in a statement Tuesday, Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland. Brief Interview: Party leaders may lose no more than three Democrats to prevail in the 435-member House.

Both parties to the talks expressed renewed optimism. On Tuesday about the prospects for a deal, a view they have expressed before without producing results. The uncertainty underscored that Democrats were at a promising but precarious spot on their agenda, with stakes that seem too big to fail, but failure is still possible.

Biden met at the White House Tuesday with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a leader of moderate Democrats who has been working toward an infrastructure deal with Republican senators. The president also used several tweets to encourage lawmakers, including one that read, “There are no Democratic highways or Republican bridges; infrastructure affects us all and I think we need to come together to find solutions.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden and Sinema “are very aligned on the way forward” and expressed optimism, but also said the president “was not setting new deadlines” for a deal. Several target dates for a deal have come and gone, though Schumer wants a Senate vote on a package before sending lawmakers home for an August recess.

Sinema is a centrist who has alienated some Democrats who see her as unpredictable.

Illustrating that, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, told House Democrats privately on Tuesday that the infrastructure deal senators are trying to complete is “bullshit,” according to two people who attended the session and they described her on condition of anonymity. He said the measure was being crafted by “three Republicans,” deliberately naming Senators Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Susan Collins, R-Maine and Sinema, they said.

Moderate Democrats have long made an infrastructure deal their top priority. The bipartisanship that such a deal would demonstrate plus the spending on meat and potatoes it would bring home has made his goal of the separate $ 3.5 billion measure for family and environmental programs.

If the infrastructure talks fail, it would deprive the moderates of a victory that, if achieved, would leave them more open to making concessions on the $ 3.5 trillion measure. A collapse could also trigger a new Democratic infighting over how much of the infrastructure spending would be transferred to the huge domestic spending plan and how that would affect its overall price.

Even Republicans are divided on the infrastructure measure and what it would mean a failure of the bipartisan talks as both parties look to the 2022 elections in which control of the House and Senate are at stake.

Some Republicans worry that passing a bipartisan infrastructure plan will help Democrats pass their $ 3.5 trillion measure by making moderate Democrats more likely to cooperate with their colleagues on that later, more expensive legislation.

They also say supporting the infrastructure measure would allow Democrats to force the Republican Party to share the blame if inflation or other economic woes take hold amid massive federal spending programs.

But others say that since Republicans won’t be able to prevent Democrats from passing their $ 3.5 trillion bill, the Republican Party could also back an infrastructure deal. That would allow Republicans to bring a portion of their trillion dollars in grassroots projects back to their home states.

Democrats plan to use special budget rules that would prevent Republicans from using filibuster, a delay that requires 60 Senate votes to stop, to derail the $ 3.5 trillion measure.

These Republicans also say that passing the infrastructure measure would make it harder for Manchin and Sinema, and moderate Democrats facing re-election in swing states, like Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Mark Kelly of Arizona, to vote for an even bigger plan. of $ 3.5 billion.

“I think it puts its members more on the defensive and they have to defend spending and taxes very, in my opinion, indefensible,” said No. Second Senate Republican Leader John Thune of South Dakota.

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