Bipartisan deal on infrastructure emerges in US Senate

Five Republicans, five Democrats offer $579bn spending plan without new taxes but it meets quick criticism.

Senator Mitt Romney describes a bipartisan agreement on a framework for an infrastructure bill at the US Capitol in Washington, DC [Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters]

A bipartisan group of United States senators said on Thursday they have reached an agreement on a framework for a proposed massive infrastructure spending plan without major tax increases.

In a statement, the group of five Republicans and five Democrats said they were discussing their approach with their colleagues and the Biden White House, and were optimistic about getting broad support.

“Our group … has worked in good faith and reached a bipartisan agreement on a realistic, compromise framework to modernize our nation’s infrastructure and energy technologies,” the group led by Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Rob Portman said.

“This investment would be fully paid for and not include tax increases,” they claimed.

The statement gave no details of the agreement and Democratic critics of the nascent agreement took shots at it as senators hurried to leave Washington for the weekend.

A person familiar with the deal told the Reuters news agency it would cost $974bn across five years and $1.2 trillion across eight years and includes $579bn in new spending.

Democratic US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was open to considering the bipartisan proposal, but wanted to see it in writing – and added he might also push for a follow-up spending measure with only Democratic support.

“I was told verbally, stuff; I’ve asked for paper, I’ll look at it,” Schumer said. “But we continue to proceed on two tracks. A bipartisan track and a reconciliation track, and both are moving forward.”

President Joe Biden has pushed for a sweeping $1.7 trillion package to revamp roads and bridges and tackle such other issues as education and home healthcare.

Republicans rejected the president’s infrastructure plan, which would address climate change, build up some social programmes and pay for itself by raising taxes on US corporations.

Biden offered to scale back his proposals but met a setback this week when Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat, insisted any infrastructure plan have bipartisan support and Biden rejected a smaller proposal put forward by Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

That left room for the group of 10 moderate senators from the two parties to pitch a new idea designed to generate enough support to pass through the Senate with the 60 votes necessary for most bills. The Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also told the group he was open to their ideas, Republicans said.

In addition to Sinema and Portman, the 10-senator negotiating group includes Democrats Joe Manchin, Jeanne Shaheen, Jon Tester and Mark Warner, with Republicans Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney.

Manchin told reporters on Thursday that “things are going in the right direction.”

Romney said there was also “general agreement” on a top-line spending figure but it was not set in concrete.

He did not specify the number, but told reporters that the expected package would be paid for, in part, by indexing the federal tax on petrol to inflation.

He and Tester also spoke of a provision that might raise revenue by having the Internal Revenue Service go after tax cheats.

At the same time, infrastructure-related transportation bills moved forward at the congressional committee level.

With Biden in Europe, Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, said administration officials were encouraged by bipartisan negotiations in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

“We’re seeing progress on multiple fronts right now,” she told CNN.

“This is how a bill becomes a law. It’s a process with many steps, and we’re encouraged by all of the progress happening on these different paths simultaneously.”

But the bipartisan push came under fire from some Democrats who have criticised a Republican approach that narrows the focus to physical infrastructure and rules out tax increases for corporations and the wealthy.

Source: Reuters