A bipartisan group of 10 senators announced a broad, if somewhat vague agreement on infrastructure Thursday afternoon, triggering a group of Democrats to warn that they wouldn't allow a goal of "bipartisanship" to outweigh the critical goals of addressing climate change and rebuilding the nation. Among those sending a warning is a powerful committee chair, Sen. Ron Wyden.
CNN is reporting that the agreement includes $1.2 trillion over eight years, with just $570 billion in new spending. In the previous failed negotiations between President Joe Biden and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, he set a floor of $1 trillion in new spending. The Senate group would spend $974 million of the total over the first five years on "core, physical infrastructure," would not raise taxes, and "[m]any of the specific details still need to be ironed out." That thing about where the devil resides comes to mind, including the fact that five Republicans agreeing to this is not 10 Republicans who would be required to pass it, and finding five more willing to buck Sen. Mitch McConnell is unlikely. Extremely unlikely. So the talk currently is to pass this smaller agreement with regular order, reaching the 60-vote threshold under filibuster rules, and then pass the rest—whatever the rest might be—with budget reconciliation, which requires just 51 votes.
A growing list of Democrats, running the ideological gamut from Colorado's Michael Bennett to Massachusett's Ed Markey, wants more certainty that this will work. They are vowing to oppose any legislation that does not center fighting climate change. That includes Oregon Democrat Wyden, who is chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He told The Washington Post "he would reject a deal that did not address the climate crisis or raise taxes on multinational corporations." Since he and his committee are instrumental to passing a bill this big, that's significant.
New Mexico's Martin Heinrich sums up where this chunk of Democrats stand on this two-bill idea: “I think that's a very dangerous approach to this unless we have a very well-defined and secure commitment from the necessary senators to be able to be assured," Heinrich said, referring back to those missing five Republicans on a narrow infrastructure bill without climate policies. "I'm not a redline guy, but I'm not in a mood to ignore the greatest existential threat to my children’s generation." Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut is there, too:
As is Sanders, chair of the Budget Committee and again, pretty critical to getting a large package passed. "The problem is this country faces enormous issues that have been ignored and neglected for a very long period of time," he said. "Even if you look at infrastructure from the narrow perspective of roads and bridges, it's inadequate. That's not me talking, that's the American Society of Civil Engineers."
Sanders also pointed to a problem in their plan, which by all accounts would include raising the gas tax by tying to inflation. "I think the gas tax is a fairly regressive way of funding transportation. It hurts rural America especially hard," said Sanders. The White House doesn't like it, either.
It should also be said, when looking at the possibility that there could be 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to actually do something to help the nation, this agreement might just be vapor as the members of the very group who supposedly reached it are definitely not on the same page.
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said talks are "in the middle stages" but that there wouldn't be a deal Thursday. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said there was no agreement but "we might" get there, then listed the key problem of disagreement over total spending and how to pay for it. "For some people it's going to be plenty, for others it's not going to be near enough. There's going to be challenges for Republicans and Democrats," Tester said. "The words [Republicans] use are: we have a general, total agreement." He's saying, without saying it, that Republicans are lying.
That doesn't bode well for progress in this group.