by Lisa Mascaro and Kevin Freaking
WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Republicans reached an agreement with Democrats on Wednesday on key outstanding issues in a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and said they were ready to vote to take the bill. An evening trial vote was possible.
Rob Portman, lead GOP negotiator from Ohio, made the announcement at the Capitol, along with four other Republican senators who were negotiating with Democrats and the White House on a bipartisan package.
“We now have an agreement on key issues,” Portman said. “We are ready to move on.”
Kristen Cinemas of Arizona, a prominent Democratic negotiator, said she spoke with President Joe Biden on Wednesday and he was “very excited” to strike a deal.
For days, senators and the White House have worked to salvage the bipartisan deal, a key part of Biden’s agenda.
The result will set the stage for the next debate over Biden’s more ambitious $3.5 trillion spending package, a strictly partisan effort to far-reach programs and services including child care, tax breaks and health care that touch nearly every corner of American life, And which Republicans vehemently oppose.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the Senate on Wednesday evening announcing a possible test vote on a bipartisan package. For the idea to proceed, 60 votes in an equally divided 50-50 Senate would be needed, meaning the support of both sides. This would begin a potentially lengthy process to consider the bill, and any possible amendments.
Republican senators met on Wednesday morning with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who has given his approval to move forward. Portman said McConnell “has always been encouraging our efforts.”
Democrats, who have thin control of the House and Senate, are faced with a timeline to act on what will be some of the most important pieces of legislation in years.
The bipartisan package includes about $600 billion in new spending on highways, bridges, transit, broadband, water systems and other public works projects.
Filling out the details has become a month-long exercise ever since senators struck a deal with Biden over a comprehensive framework more than a month ago. Work remains to be done to draft the legislative text.
Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has been at the center of the conversation, said, “It doesn’t mean that every ‘T’ is crossed out, every ‘I’ is dotted, but on key issues we’re there. Huh.”
Republican senators attended their closed-door lunch Tuesday, with one side willing to do anything to ease the way for the sweeping bill for Democrats, according to a person anonymously, to discuss a private meeting. argued against. Others spoke in favor of a bipartisan package.
A recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC found that 8 in 10 Americans favor some increased infrastructure spending.
House Democrats have their own transportation bill, which includes much more spending to address rail transit, electric vehicles and other strategies to combat climate change.
At a private meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday, Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called the Senate bipartisan measure complete “nonsense,” according to two Democrats who attended the session and spoke on condition Anonymity to describe it.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not commit to supporting the bipartisan package until the details were seen, but said on Wednesday she “implied for it.”
“I really want this to pass,” Pelosi said.
The bipartisan group’s senators have been working privately for weeks. The group consists of 10 main negotiators, split equally between Democrats and Republicans, but at times has grown to 22.
Transit funding remains a stubborn controversy, as Republican senators formally have a specific formula for allocating about 80% to highways and 20% to transit for the Highway Trust Fund.
Most Republican senators come from rural states where highways dominate and public transportation is scarce, while Democrats see transit for cities as a priority and key to easing congestion and fighting climate change. Democrats do not want to see the formula fall below its typical threshold.
Expanding access to broadband. A new debate has sprung up as to which has become more important to households during the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans pushed back against imposing rules on Internet service providers in a program that helps low-income people pay for service.
Cinema said transit and broadband were the remaining issues that were being addressed on Wednesday.
Democrats are pushing the prevailing-wage requirement not only for existing public works programs but also for the construction of new roads, bridges, broadband and other infrastructure, but it is unclear what the final package will be.
It’s still unclear how to pay for the bipartisan package after Democrats rejected plans to bring in money by raising the pay of gas tax drivers at the pump and Republicans encouraged the IRS to go after the tax scofflaw. The plan collapsed.
The funding could come from restarting COVID relief aid, reversing Trump-era pharmaceutical exemptions and other clauses. It’s possible that the final deal could run into political trouble if it doesn’t pass as fully paid for by the Congressional Budget Office to assess the details.
Portman said the package would be “more than paid for”.
Meanwhile, Democrats are preparing a comprehensive $3.5 trillion package, considered under budget rules, to allow passage with 51 senators in a divided Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to break a tie. It would be paid by raising the corporate tax rate and the tax rate on Americans to more than $400,000 per year.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Josh Bock in Washington and Tali Arbel in New York contributed to this report.