WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said “we have a deal” on Thursday, signaling agreement with a bipartisan group of senators including the two from Maine on a $953 billion infrastructure plan to advance a top priority and validate his efforts to reach across the political aisle.
Biden made a surprise appearance in front of the cameras with members of the group of senators after an agreement was reached Thursday. Details of the deal were scarce to start, but the pared-down plan, with $559 billion in new spending, has rare bipartisan backing and could open the door to the Democrats president’s more sweeping $4 trillion proposals later on.
“This reminds me of the days we used to get an awful lot done up in the United States Congress,” said Biden, a longtime senator and former vice president.
Biden’s top aides had met with senators for back-to-back meetings on Capitol Hill and later huddled with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York. The agreement comes with a complex legislative push.
Pelosi on Thursday welcomed the bipartisan package, but she warned that it must be paired with the president’s bigger goals now being prepared by Congress under a separate so-called the budget reconciliation process. The Democratic leader vowed the House would not vote on it until the Senate had dealt with both packages.
The major hurdle for a bipartisan agreement has been financing. Biden demanded no new taxes on anyone making less than $400,000, while Republican lawmakers were unwilling to raise taxes beyond such steps as indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. But the group of senators expressed confidence that funding issues had been addressed.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was among the 10 to meet with Biden, told reporters the group had reached an agreement on the price tag, scope of the bill and how it would be paid for.
“It was not easy to get agreement on all three but it was essential,” Collins said.
The group that met with Biden on Thursday was the core group negotiating the package with the White House. A wider group of 11 more senators, including Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats, later lended support. King also backs the deal, a spokesperson said on Thursday.
The proposal includes $109 billion for roads and bridges, $73 billion for power grid infrastructure, $66 billion for rail and $65 billion for broadband, among other measures. It includes many of the same priorities outlined in a framework introduced by a bipartisan House group that included Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, this month, though the topline figure is less.
The senators proposed a range of funding mechanisms, including repurposing COVID-19 relief money, increasing IRS enforcement, extending customs user fees and reinstating superfund fees for chemicals, among other provisions, as well as relying on economic growth spurred by the investments. The project has not yet been scored by the Congressional Budget Office.
Biden has sought $1.7 trillion in his American Jobs Plan, part of nearly $4 trillion in broad infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and broadband internet but also including the so-called care economy of child care centers, hospitals and elder care.
With Republicans opposed to Biden’s proposed corporate tax rate increase, from 21 percent to 28 percent, the group has looked at other ways to raise revenue. Biden rejected their idea to allow gas taxes paid at the pump to rise with inflation, viewing it as a regressive tax hike.
The broad reconciliation bill would likely include tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, so a tension still exists over funding for some Republicans and business groups. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out Thursday applauding the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, but Neil Bradley, its executive vice president, warned that “some in Congress are trying to torpedo the deal” unless they get trillions in additional spending.
“These are the kind of tactics that have created the mess we are in today, and they must be rejected,” Bradley said.
One member of the bipartisan group, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, met privately ahead of the White House meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and said afterward that he “remains open-minded and he’s listening still.”
Schumer said the leaders “support the concepts” they have heard from the bipartisan negotiations. The Democratic leaders also insisted on the two-part process ahead, starting with initial votes in July to consider the bipartisan deal and to launch the lengthy procedure for the Democrats’ proposal, now drafted at nearly $6 trillion.
“There ain’t going to be a bipartisan bill without a reconciliation bill,” Pelosi said.
The Democrats’ bigger proposal would run through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow passage of Biden’s priorities by majority vote, without the need for support from Republicans to overcome the Senate’s 60-vote threshold. It would require multiple rounds of voting that are likely to extend into fall.
Like Pelosi, Schumer said, “One can’t be done without the other.”
That’s a signal to both parties of the road ahead. Liberal Democrats have been wary of the bipartisan effort because they see it as insufficient and worry it will take the place of Biden’s bigger plan. Republicans are also skeptical of passing a bipartisan bill only to be faced with an even bigger Democratic plan.
Story by Lisa Mascaro, Josh Boak and Jonathan Lemire. Bangor Daily News writers Michael Shepherd and Jessica Piper and Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed reporting.