When the Biden administration’s infrastructure negotiations with the Senate Republicans began on Friday with a counteroffer of $ 1.7 trillion, some Congressional Democrats became nervous.
“We move as fast as we can when we grow up, we move as fast as we can in negotiations,” Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) told Vox on Wednesday. “At some point, if they don’t go where we believe the country has to go and where the country seems to want to go, then we’ll take off.”
President Biden made his opening offer last month – the US $ 2.25 trillion employment plan – and the GOP responded a few weeks ago with a counter-offer for infrastructure worth $ 568 billion. (Separately, the White House also launched a $ 1.8 trillion American family plan that focuses on childcare and education.)
The White House’s new $ 1.7 trillion counteroffer offsets the $ 65 billion Republicans allocated to broadband funding and reduces the road and bridge funding amount from Biden’s original $ 159 billion proposal to $ 120 billion for new investments. It also cuts off research and development from a proposed package and promises to include it in other Congress bills in the future. But the president’s desk continues to fund clean energy, remove lead pipes from American drinking water systems, and promote caregivers.
“We realize that we are still far apart,” says a White House memo to Republicans that Vox received. “However, in order to move these negotiations forward, the President has asked us to respond with changes to his American employment plan in the hope that these changes will spur further bipartisan cooperation and progress.”
The Republicans, for their part, don’t seem so happy. A statement by a Senate Republican spokesman on Friday said: “After today’s meeting, the groups appear further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they did after meeting President Biden.”
Democrats on the Hill say they support the White House, which is actively speaking to Republicans. However, some also fear that negotiations with Republicans may not respond to current needs – be it on climate change or jobs.
“I don’t think it’s our job to hand something over just so we can say,” Well, that piece over there is non-partisan “and wait for the pat on the back,” moderated Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) . told reporters recently. “I think people want us to do big things.”
The Democrats’ other option is the budget vote, a mechanism that would allow them to pass a massive budget bill with just 51 instead of the required 60 votes – mostly on the party line. This is what Democrats did for Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion aid package, Covid-19, and they have at least one more opportunity to do it again before mid-2022.
The Biden administration is caught between two promises: to work with Republicans on Capitol Hill and a promise to adopt an ambitious economic agenda that will redirect the American economy to clean energy and hand over billions to make childcare and long-term care more affordable.
Some progressive climate groups argue that a bipartisan deal could seriously undermine the president’s climate change agenda. They argue that Biden will need to invest heavily in electric charging stations and adopt a clean electricity standard to meet its goal of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. Biden’s counteroffer leaves its environmental regulations largely intact, but would forego a $ 180 billion investment in research and development – money that could be vital to the Department of Energy’s development of new technologies to combat climate change.
“If you spend money on roads without major investments in mileage standards or the use of electric vehicles, or in new standards to ensure clean electricity by 2030 or 2035, you will reverse the climate,” said Jamal Raad, co -Founder of Evergreen Action climate group and former top contributor to Washington Governor Jay Inslee.
As much as some Democrats worry about wasting valuable time negotiating with Republicans, some of Biden’s closest allies on Capitol Hill say this is simply part of a process that could get moderate Democrats to accept reconciliation, if and when so happens.
“When the president announced a grand and bold proposal, the American employment plan, several Democrats promptly said, ‘I will not vote for it – for reconciliation, a law only for Democrats – unless there is a serious and determined effort for it first the non-partisanship. ” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) told Vox. “It seems to me that the problem isn’t that the White House isn’t getting brave. It’s all about order and timing. “
Non-partisan negotiations on the infrastructure are ongoing
The main Republican negotiator is Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Capito is the senior Republican member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, responsible for re-approving surface and water infrastructure for a period of five years.
Capito and other Republicans who serve on key committees had a nearly two-hour meeting with Biden at the White House earlier this month. The Senators also had subsequent discussions with members of Biden’s cabinet and senior officials, including White House Advisor Steve Ricchetti, Legislative Director Louisa Terrell, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
While the main difference between Republicans and Democrats is the proposed corporate tax increases to fund the projects, there are other areas where disagreement arises. In negotiations between Senate Democrats and Republicans at the staff level over the five-year land transportation law, Republicans pushed back climate resilience provisions, a Democratic Senate official told Vox. Democrats see infrastructure as an important way to make progress in reducing fossil fuel emissions in the transport sector. They are investing in 500,000 electric vehicle charging points on the country’s roads to encourage more people to switch to cleaner cars.
“I’m careful with anything Capito’s fingerprints have,” said Raad, the co-founder of Evergreen Action. “Not only would it affect our ability to meet our NDC [the US target to limit its carbon emissions]it would bring us backwards “
Senator Brown says the Biden administration should try to find common ground with the Republicans to at least prove they tried. But Brown clearly believes that this shouldn’t entail any significant concessions, especially when it comes to the climate.
“I assume that they will hinder the climate,” he told Vox. “We will try to reach a bipartisan agreement. I do not expect it [to happen]. We are making great progress. “
Negotiations take time – and that is a risk
Biden said he wanted to see significant progress in the bipartisan talks by Memorial Day, and House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi outlined July 4th as if she’d like to see an infrastructure bill come to the vote in Congress, but this date could also be postponed if necessary.
It is possible that the Democrats booked additional time with these initial deadlines and expected the negotiations to postpone them. Even so, a wafer-thin majority in the House and Senate makes the risk of taking up extra time a high-stakes strategy. When they will introduce the first draft law is still unclear.
“I can’t give you a specific answer because I don’t know the answer,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told Vox, adding that the house appropriation work will begin in earnest in July. “We will have some time during this period to do the work of the employment plan and the family plan if we can actually reach an agreement. And if we can’t reach an agreement, work with the administration to see how we move forward. “
House Budgets Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY), who will oversee the House Budget Voting process if Democrats actually want a budget vote as an option to pass their Infrastructure Bill, told reporters, “I think they want one give reasonable chance for a bipartisan bill. I probably think there will be a decision sooner rather than later. “
Even if the Democrats opt for reconciliation rather than moving a bipartisan bill through regular order, much remains to be decided, including whether they will propose a massive bill that includes both the American employment plan and Biden’s American family plan, dealing with affordable childcare and education, or dividing them into separate bills.
“I think it would be difficult to do two. I know there is this idea of just creating physical infrastructure in a smaller bipartisan bill, but I don’t like that idea, ”said Casey, who heads the Senate portion of the American Families Plan of Biden’s package and sees both planks would like Biden’s economic package has been reconciled.
The next week will be crucial for Biden’s huge impact on the economy. But the clock is ticking.