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."