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Senators face obstacles to passing a bipartisan infrastructure plan as opposition grows

The Democratic and Republican senators who propose an infrastructure deal face the first hurdles to get their $ 1 trillion plan through Congress.

The bipartisan proposal by 10 senators would focus on transportation, broadband and water, and not raise taxes to offset costs. A handful of Democrats seeking a broader plan that addresses climate change and social programs that are paid for through tax hikes for businesses or the rich have opposed the framework.

Senators have to walk a fine line because concessions to win one party jeopardize the support of the other. Despite growing opposition from Liberals, one Republican who worked on the plan hopes the group will be supported by enough GOP senators to overcome the loss of Democratic votes.

"It should definitely be," Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told CNBC on Tuesday when asked if there would be enough Republican support to pass the plan. “I mean, this is a proposal for infrastructure that Republicans have traditionally supported. It is also a proposal with no increase in income taxes. … I think there will be a lot of support on both sides of the aisle. "

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President Joe Biden's second major legislative initiative proposed an infrastructure and economic stimulus program worth $ 2.3 trillion. After talks with Republicans failed due to disagreements about what to include in law and how to pay for it, lawmakers pushed on their final efforts to work out a bipartisan plan.

While the 10 Senators are trying to win support for their proposal, the Democrats have laid the groundwork to pass a bill themselves through a budget reconciliation. During a meeting with House Democrats on Tuesday, White House aide Steve Ricchetti said the government would wait "a week or 10 days" to see if a bipartisan deal was reached, the House budget committee chairman said , John Yarmuth, D-Ky. If not, "the Democrats go along with the reconciliation for everything," said Yarmuth.

A Democratic-only bill, however, appears to be blocked for the time being as at least one Democrat involved in the talks, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, insists on wanting to pass a bipartisan support plan.

Congress leaders have a math problem. In order to get through the evenly split Senate in the normal process, the legislation would need the support of all Democratic factions and at least 10 Republicans – or more if Democrats overflow. If the Democrats try to legislate on budget balancing themselves, they cannot lose a single vote.

U.S. Senators Mitt Romney, Kyrsten Sinema, Susan Collins, Joe Manchin, and Mark Warner walk after attending a bipartisan working group meeting on an infrastructure bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA, June 8, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

The bipartisan strategy faces its share of skeptics. Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent Vermonter sitting down with the Democrats, told reporters Monday he would not vote for the plan.

"The bottom line is that there are many needs in this country," he said. "Now is the time to meet those needs and it has to be paid for in a progressive way as we have massive income and wealth inequality in America."

At least two other Democrats – Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon – have signaled that they will oppose an infrastructure deal unless more is invested in fighting climate change.

Passing a bill in the Senate will also depend on whether the bipartisan group can win over Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., And Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. No senator approved the framework.

McConnell is “open-minded, as he has told the media. … I think the Democrats are talking to Senator Schumer too, and I think he's open-minded too, ”Portman told CNBC.

While McConnell said he hopes to reach a bipartisan infrastructure deal, he has also vowed to combat Biden's economic agenda.

Schumer said Monday that "discussions about infrastructure investments are advancing in two ways". The Democrat added that during the bipartisan talks, the Senate committees are also working on a plan based on Biden's proposal, "which will be considered even if he does not have bipartisan support."

He also signaled that he would like greater investments in climate protection.

"And as a reminder of the Senate, a reminder of the Senate: As I said from the start, we have to take bold action to protect the climate in order to move forward with infrastructure," he said.

The challenges are not limited to the Senate. House progressives have begun to oppose a bipartisan plan smaller than the one proposed by Biden. House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, also said a provision to index gas taxes to inflation would not receive the blessings of the White House.

"The President of the United States is an important factor in this, and he said he would not support taxes for those earning less than $ 400,000 a year, and that includes increasing gas taxes," she said on Sunday opposite CNN.

Portman said Tuesday that the bipartisan framework would include a "slight increase" in the tax.

Pelosi did not rule out on Sunday that her group would support a tighter infrastructure package. She said the Democrats would likely need assurances that they will next pass a broader bill that includes more party priorities.

"If [a bipartisan deal] is something that can be negotiated, I don't know how we can possibly sell it to our group unless we know more is to come," she said.

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