A bipartisan group of lawmakers is racing to finalize a long-sought infrastructure agreement this week as they attempt to reconcile key differences that could imperil the roughly $1.2 trillion deal.
Although senators hoped to finish negotiations by Monday, the 22-member group concluded weekend talks with major roadblocks still remaining. The biggest sticking points are how much funding should go to public transit, highways, bridges, water and broadband and whether to use unspent COVID-19 relief money to help pay for the bill.
The coming days are crucial: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has said that he wants to pass the bipartisan package as well as the blueprint for a $3.5 trillion budget plan before the Senate leaves for its five-week August recess. Schumer held a procedural vote last week to begin debate on the unfinished proposal, but all 50 Republicans voted against it, saying they needed to see the finalized legislation first.
But developments as senators are drafting the bill Monday indicate that fractures could be opening between key negotiators and the White House.
Democratic negotiations and White House officials sent an offer Sunday night to Republicans with proposals to overcome the existing issues, according to The New York Times, citing a Democrat close to negotiations.
But Republicans responded poorly to the offer, alleging that is attempts to revisit issues where there was already agreement.
"Our staff worked through the weekend to continue to finalize key aspects of this agreement. Republicans made very reasonable, good-faith offers every step of the way during this process, including on transit Wednesday. That offer was met with silence for three days," a GOP aide familiar with the negotiations said. "The ‘global offer’ we received from the White House and Chuck Schumer was discouraging since it attempts to reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to."
The aide said that talks could collapse if the White House does not show more "flexibility."
Among the previous agreements Republicans say Democrats' offer breaks, per a different GOP source familiar, are an agreement not to fund baseline spending – in particular for the Senate water bill – and an agreement to keep current prevailing wage requirements but not add new ones.
The source also said that the White House changed its stance on offsets and will not agree to any until all spending is finalized.
Democrats, meanwhile, pushed back against GOP criticism. Punchbowl News reported that Democrats are accusing Republicans of being the unreasonable ones and accused Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, of going back on a deal about funding for lead pipes and water.
"This is laughably false," Romney's office responded. "As the White House’s own website shows, the deal on water was for $55 billion in new spending. After days of radio silence, Schumer now wants $70 billion. This is a direct violation of the bipartisan agreement."
The sour tone on Monday followed optimistic talk about a possible deal from over the weekend. Top GOP negotiator Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Sunday during an interview on ABC's "This Week" that the two sides were about "90% of the way there" on a deal. And Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, during an interview on "Fox News Sunday" said he was hopeful a bill would be ready by Monday afternoon.
"We’ll have that text. It will be out there tomorrow," Warner said.
The bipartisan package includes about $579 billion in new spending on traditional infrastructure projects. But the two sides remain fiercely divided over how much money to allocate toward public transportation, with Democrats pushing for more funding for subways and buses, part of a broader effort to combat climate change.
For months, President Biden has pushed for a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure, but has insisted he wants to follow it with a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar package that would make up the basis of his "Build Back Better" economic agenda.
Republicans have criticized the more expensive plan amid a recent burst of inflation, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi has maintained that the House will not vote on the bipartisan deal until the Senate also the larger bill – which includes funding for universal preschool, free community college, Medicare expansion and combating climate change – using budget reconciliation.
"We are here to get the job done. We cannot respond to some of the legislation until the Senate acts," Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters last week during her weekly press conference. "We will not take up the infrastructure bill until the Senate passes the reconciliation measure."
By tethering the bipartisan bill to the reconciliation package, Pelosi is trying to ensure that progressive members of her caucus rally around both measures. Because Democrats have an unusually narrow advantage in the House (Pelosi has just three votes to spare), it's possible that left-leaning lawmakers could torpedo the bipartisan deal.
Fox News' Tyler Olson and Kelly Phares contributed to this report.