Bipartisan group has miles to go on infrastructure talks

Despite having announced a deal last week on an infrastructure package, members of the bipartisan Senate group and members of leadership argue there is still significant work to do in order to turn the infrastructure framework into legislation.

“They have tried hard to come up with something structurally that accommodates the imperatives of both Republicans and Democrats. They’ve done a good job with it. I just have a lot of details that need to be filled in,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the GOP whip, told reporters.

Thune and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois both attended the bipartisan infrastructure meeting on Wednesday, underscoring the importance for both sides to try and find a deal. Republicans and Democrats argue they are making progress, but the clock is ticking on the group to come up with a detailed proposal that could move the bipartisan talks forward. Their job is made more difficult by the threats from progressives that they won’t back the plan if it doesn’t do enough on climate and if moderate Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia won’t commit ahead of time to moving a separate reconciliation package that would include broader, Democratic priorities. Manchin has refused to make that promise.

The bipartisan meeting also comes as Democrats are expected to brief White House officials later Wednesday on their progress and as the President is due back in the country after spending more than a week abroad for a series of high-stakes meetings with world leaders culminating, in a sit down with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Among the issues that the bipartisan group must find consensus on are how to pay for the proposal. While the group has floated several ideas including creating an infrastructure bank, targeting individuals who owe back taxes, tying the gas tax to inflation and charging electric vehicle drivers for mileage, the ideas aren’t finalized. The White House has objected to raising the gas tax, for example, frustrating Republicans in the group who argue it’s up to the White House then to suggest an alternative.

“It’s about a $30 billion revenue stream for this project, over time obviously it’s much more,” said Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio. “So, if the White House objects to that then we need to work with them on coming up with other alternatives.”

The bipartisan group has also floated the idea of using asset recycling, essentially encouraging state and local governments to fund new infrastructure by leasing existing buildings, but it’s not entirely clear how much money an idea like that would actually raise.

On Wednesday, senators in the group said that they planned to release a joint statement underscoring the group’s commitment to continuing bipartisan talks even as details remain scarce and progressives have made clear they are fed up with the pace.

The next step will be for lawmakers to try and continue to build consensus among themselves as they flush out more details, but leadership encouraged members in the meeting to try and work through committees that have specific expertise in writing legislation.

“At least there is a path forward,” Thune said. “It may be a narrow path, but a path forward.”