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Dems to Fill in Blanks of Centrist Infrastructure Deal With Reconciliation Bill

Senate centrists reached a tentative deal with the White House on infrastructure on Wednesday.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer talk to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on June 23, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

The White House reached a tentative agreement with a group of centrist senators over an infrastructure bill on Wednesday with only a quarter of the new spending that President Joe Biden had originally proposed. The group will meet with Biden Thursday to discuss the deal.

The plan includes $559 billion in new spending, and $974 billion total over the next five years. Lawmakers say that all parties have agreed to mechanisms to pay for the entire bill. Though they have yet to release details, the White House says that the bill does not include proposals to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year, as Biden has promised.

The deal is significantly smaller than Biden’s original proposal of a $2.25 trillion infrastructure package, and even significantly smaller than his pared down offer of $1.7 trillion. But Democrats and progressives aren’t giving up hope of passing an ambitious package.

Democratic leaders are insistent that the infrastructure bill will be passed concurrently with the party’s next big reconciliation package. Valued at roughly $6 trillion, Democrats plan to include proposals cut from the bipartisan infrastructure deal in the package like climate action and add new provisions favored by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) such as enhancing Medicare.

Budget reconciliation allows Senate Democrats to bypass the filibuster and pass a budget-related package with a simple majority vote.

“One can’t be done without the other,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, “[Democrats] all agree to that.”

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) say that they expect to begin hammering out details of the reconciliation bill next month for potential passage in the fall.

Though the largest hurdles for the infrastructure bill early in the talks were its size and pay-fors, a more recent concern among progressives has been the concessions to Republicans and centrists.

Over the past weeks, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) has been warning that progressives would withdraw their support for the infrastructure bill if a so-called bipartisan agreement excluded vital climate provisions and tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy. Markey had harsh words for the last bipartisan deal from earlier this month, saying that it was “climate denial masquerading as bipartisanship.”

If progressives withdrew their support of the deal, it would threaten the delicate balance that Biden has to thread in order to reach the 60-vote threshold to advance the bill in the Senate. So far, 11 Senate Republicans have agreed to back the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which would still fall short of the votes needed to pass — as long as all 49 Democrats and Sanders also supported it.

Now, it seems that progressive support hinges upon the concurrent passage of the reconciliation bill. Luckily for them, they seem to have Schumer and Pelosi’s ears on that package, as the $6 trillion package that the leaders are pushing was drafted by Sanders.

This method of passing Democratic and progressive priorities takes some of the heat off of the filibuster — at least in this venue. But, as long as non-budget-related priorities like voting rights are still being blocked by minority-holding GOP, the pressure to end the archaic practice is still on.

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