President Biden on Thursday announced a bipartisan infrastructure agreement after meeting with a group of senators from both parties, though he later cautioned it wouldn't be enacted without a separate proposal set to have just Democratic support.
"We have a deal," Biden said, appearing with the group of Republican and Democratic senators outside the White House.
The package focuses on traditional infrastructure investment items such as roads, bridges and rail, along with broadband internet and water systems.
The bipartisan framework is the result of weeks of negotiations and is seen as an early step in a broader negotiation over Biden's calls for more than $2 trillion in new spending. This Senate-driven bill is meant to address traditional infrastructure, leaving Democrats to figure out how to pass other key elements of Biden's plan.
"Today is a huge day for one-half of my economic agenda," Biden said later Thursday during remarks inside the White House, noting that Democrats plan to use the Senate reconciliation process to advance measures like universal preschool and two free years of community college. "I'm getting to work with Congress right away on the other half of my agenda as well," he said, adding that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were committed to making sure the bipartisan infrastructure package and the reconciliation process moved together.
The president made clear that just because he was willing to compromise on the infrastructure deal, it should not signal to Republicans that Democrats will not move ahead on progressive priorities on their own.
"I'm prepared to do whatever needs to get done to move the country forward," he said.
And referring to the infrastructure package, he said: "If this is the only thing that comes to me, I'm not signing it. It's in tandem."
Biden acknowledged it's not guaranteed that there will be enough support from Democrats to pass the infrastructure deal and said he knew that some in his party were unhappy that he had chosen the bipartisan approach and compromised on some elements. But he said there are enough things in the framework that Democratic voters support to make the case that progressive lawmakers should support it too.
Here's what's in the package
The full top-line spending number for the bipartisan effort, according to the White House, is $1.2 trillion over eight years, with nearly $600 billion in new spending.
It is in effect a slimmed-down version of Biden's original infrastructure and jobs plan, which had a price tag of more than $2 trillion.
In the agreed-upon framework, the new spending includes $109 billion for roads and bridges, $66 billion for rail, $49 billion for public transit, $55 billion for water infrastructure and $65 billion for broadband.
The White House claims it includes the largest federal investment in public transit in U.S. history, the largest federal investment in passenger rail since Amtrak began and the largest single investment in bridges since the interstate highway system. The White House says the plan will eliminate lead water pipes and upgrade the power grid while also creating millions of American jobs.
It also includes some elements focused on climate change that have been prioritized by Biden, including $15 billion for building a network of electric vehicle chargers and electrifying school and transit buses, plus money for upgrading infrastructure for the impacts of climate change.
A key sticking point has been how to pay for the measure, with Republicans opposed to undoing any of their 2017 tax cuts and Biden against raising the gas tax.
In the end, it would be paid for with a mix of increased tax enforcement, unused unemployment insurance, unused coronavirus relief funds, state and local funds for broadband, sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and several other measures.
Biden, in his Thursday afternoon remarks, said that the package would be funded "without raising a cent" on taxpayers making less than $400,000 a year. He said it would not call for an increased gas tax or fees on electric vehicles.
A bipartisan lift
"Neither side got everything they want in this deal," Biden said. "That's what it means to compromise."
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the top Republican negotiator in the group, said he was "pleased" the two parties were able to reach an agreement on the package.
The bipartisan group of senators includes some 20 members.
"It's something that traditionally has been very bipartisan," Portman said. "And I'm very pleased to see today that we are able to come together on a core infrastructure package ... without new taxes."
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the lead Democratic negotiator, said the package would amount to "a historic investment in our country's infrastructure" but noted that the senators still have to go back to Capitol Hill and sell the deal to their colleagues.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took to the Senate floor Thursday to blast Biden for tying the bipartisan effort to a reconciliation measure.
"Less than two hours after publicly endorsing our colleagues' bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, the president took the extraordinary step of threatening to veto it," said McConnell, who added that Biden was "caving" to the left.
A two-track effort
The bipartisan plan does not address investments in child care, tax credits for families or other programs that Democrats say are necessary to ensure that all people are able to participate in the economy.
Pelosi told reporters on Thursday that the House will not move forward on any bipartisan agreement until the Senate passes a separate bill to address those other priorities.
"We aren't going down the path unless we all go down the path together," she said.
Pelosi said she supports the concept of a bipartisan bill on the elements of infrastructure that have widespread support. But she also called on Senate Democrats to use special budget rules, known as reconciliation, to pass the partisan elements of Biden's plan without the threat of a filibuster in the Senate.
"There won't be an infrastructure bill unless we have a reconciliation bill, plain and simple," Pelosi said. "If there is no bipartisan bill, then we'll just go when the Senate passes a reconciliation bill. But I am hopeful that we will have a bipartisan bill."
Senate Democrats have begun the budget process that would allow such a measure to move through the chamber.
And Schumer echoed Pelosi: "If the Senate is going to move forward with a bipartisan infrastructure bill, we must also move forward on a budget resolution as well," he said on the Senate floor Thursday.
He added: "All parties understand that we won't get enough votes to pass either unless we have enough votes to pass both."
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There's a bipartisan deal today in Washington on an eight-year plan to spend 1.2 trillion on infrastructure. President Joe Biden announced the agreement at the White House following a meeting with 10 senators, five from each party. They helped craft the plan. Biden celebrated the moment as proof that Washington isn't broken.
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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But this reminds me of the days we used to get an awful lot done up in the United States Congress. We actually worked with one another. We got bipartisan deals. Bipartisan deals mean to compromise.
CORNISH: This deal is just the start of what could be a long and difficult process before any new roads or bridges are underway. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following these talks. She joins us now. And Kelsey, to start, what's in this agreement?
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Well, like you said, it is $1.2 trillion, and it includes about $550 billion in new money over what Congress was already on track to spend. And this is focused entirely on what we've been hearing called hard infrastructure. So the bulk of that money is for transportation, things like roads and bridges and also transit and safety and airports, the way we get around the country and the world. There's also money for water infrastructure, broadband internet and beefing up the electric grid - so those traditional definitions of infrastructure that we often hear.
CORNISH: So what's missing?
SNELL: Well, this doesn't have any of the provisions that Democrats say are completely necessary, in their minds, to address this new definition of an infrastructure, which they're defining as all of the systems that allow people to participate in the economy. So that means none of the child care and elder care provisions that they were discussing, none of the tax credits or most of the climate change provisions that Democrats wanted to have in any infrastructure bill. So this is strictly an agreement on a framework for addressing the areas where Democrats and Republicans agree on the definition of infrastructure and how they want to go about paying for it.
CORNISH: So why are Biden and negotiators essentially celebrating this as proof that Congress works?
SNELL: Well, they are right. It is not insignificant for them to be getting a deal right now. Many people in Washington thought it was impossible to get any kind of an agreement on this, and the group has certainly proven them wrong on that front. You know, some Democrats were agitating for Biden to walk away from this weeks ago, and they wanted to move ahead without any Republicans. You know, Biden and these negotiators in the group said it was critical that they find a way. Maine Republican Susan Collins put it this way.
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SUSAN COLLINS: It was essential to show the American people that the Senate can function, that we can work in a bipartisan way.
SNELL: And in many ways, they proved that. They were able to get an agreement. They were able to do something that, you know, Biden could sign onto. And they are moving forward in a way that they think that they can make this law.
CORNISH: So from your reporting, I understand this is just the start. Could this move quickly?
SNELL: It probably can't. You know, Biden did a press conference after they announced this where he added a really important caveat to all of this. He said he wants Democrats to work on a separate bill to address that whole rest of the proposals, all those human infrastructure parts we were just talking about. And he wants to pass those policies, even if they have to use special budget rules to do it without any Republican votes. He said he wouldn't sign a bipartisan bill unless they did that. You know, that's in part because progressives in the House are pressuring leaders to do that. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters today that she won't allow a vote on the bipartisan elements at all unless Senate Democrats also pass that human infrastructure through budget reconciliation, which allows them to avoid the filibuster.
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NANCY PELOSI: There won't be an infrastructure bill unless we have a reconciliation bill...
SNELL: Now, the leader of the...
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PELOSI: ...Plain and simple.
SNELL: And the leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, put out a statement backing that strategy. But that's complicated (laughter).
CORNISH: How do they move forward?
SNELL: You know, timing will be a really big part of this. They need to pass identical budgets. They need to go through the whole budget process, and they need to make sure that they have enough votes for these packages. Doesn't have to be the same coalitions of people to support the bipartisan bill as the partisan bill, but they have to do it, and they have to do it in a way that satisfies progressives in the House and moderates in the Senate.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Kelsey Snell. Thanks for your reporting.
SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.