Democrats draw hard line on bipartisan infrastructure negotiations, penning in Sinema and Manchin

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Senate Democrats, particularly the liberals, have tired of the game that President Joe Biden and their colleagues Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have been indulging in with Senate Republicans. They want the bold infrastructure package promised by Biden, and they want it sooner rather than later. They’ve made it clear that it is no longer a matter of those elusive 10 Republicans agreeing to a package, but crafting a package that can get every Democrat on board. And that means using budget reconciliation.

Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley (Oregon) and Ed Markey (Massachusetts) held a press conference to announce they will not support a bipartisan infrastructure proposal unless it is part of a larger agreement—a reconciliation bill—that provides a massive investment in combating climate change. Without that promise, Markey says “I could not” support the bipartisan bill. “It’s time for us to go our own way. This is as clear as day. No climate, no deal. We need to move forward with 50 Democratic votes now that the Republicans have shown us they are not serious about creating clean energy jobs, jump-starting a clean energy revolution or adding the standards and investments we need to attack this crisis,” Markey said.

“If we’re looking at a deal on infrastructure going to the floor that does not have the energy investments in it and [for] which there has not been a deal worked out on reconciliation to have those energy investments, then absolutely not, I will not support the package,” Merkley said. “If there’s no climate, there’s no deal,” he added. That’s echoing Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, who said on Monday “I wouldn’t vote for” the bipartisan bill without the broader agreement. “The bottom line is there are needs facing this country. Now is the time to address those needs and it has to be paid for in a progressive way given the fact that we have massive income, wealth inequality in America.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts agreed. “The bipartisan negotiations have so far yielded a framework that’s completely inadequate. I can’t support any infrastructure package that does not include child care, clean energy and requiring the rich and powerful to a pay a fair share to get this done,” Warren said Tuesday. “It has to be one deal, not two deals.” 

Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Banking Committee chair, spoke for pretty much every Democrat who isn’t Manchin or Sinema. Any “bipartisan” deal has to be viewed “with skepticism that Mitch McConnell’s earned,” he said Tuesday. “McConnell has repeatedly said he wants Biden to fail. And you know the Republican conference doesn’t do anything that McConnell doesn’t bless,” Brown told Politico. “There’s no genuineness about paying for it … we’re not going to do a gas tax, and they’re not going to ask people that got tax cuts four years ago to ante up anything.” He said Democrats are working on reconciliation—which they can pass with just Democratic votes—because Republicans “are not genuine on this, on anything.”

The two-track, bipartisan agreement welded together with a broader reconciliation package has apparently been blessed by leadership.

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Other Senate Democrats are speaking up as well, including Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono and Minnesota’s Tina Smith.

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They join a handful of additional senators, including some who generally fall into the “moderate” category like Colorado’s Michael Bennett, who insist that they cannot support any bill that doesn’t include climate policies. Among them is Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden.

That’s all on the Senate side. Any bipartisan effort that miraculously passed in the Senate would also have to make it through the House, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (Washington), promises that her Congressional Progressive Caucus will oppose that bill unless it is paired with a broader, separate bill. That message has been heard by leadership. “The White House made clear to us in our conversations today that we are prepared to take a two-track approach,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries of New York told reporters Tuesday. “If the obstructionists prevail,” Jeffries said, Democrats will go it alone.

That means, however, a delay. As the calendar now stands, the reconciliation bill that would include the big parts of Biden’s plan can’t happen until fall. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth told reporters on Tuesday that he is on track to have the budget reconciliation package—which has to include the fiscal 2022 budget resolution—on the floor before August recess.

“We’re assuming right now that everything will be done by reconciliation,” he said. That means the infrastructure, child care and other elements of Biden’s proposal. “That doesn’t preclude a bipartisan agreement. If one happens, we just take that part out of the instructions. But right now, we’re assuming everything will be in.”

Of course, this could all be done sooner, if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer got really serious about dealing with all of the problems facing the nation and canceled recess.

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