President Biden's push for a bipartisan infrastructure bill could be thwarted by growing division among Democratic lawmakers, some of whom want to go it alone on a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar spending package.
A coalition of 10 senators reached an agreement last week for $579 billion in new spending that would be funded without any tax hikes, according to a source familiar with the matter. The proposal would spend $974 billion over five years and $1.2 trillion if continued over eight years, the source said. The senators did not release details of the plan, but the source said it would remain focused on core infrastructure projects.
But some Democrats want President Biden to abandon bipartisan talks and pursue his initial $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan unilaterally. That measure, first unveiled at the beginning of April, would make massive investments in the nation's crumbling roads and bridges, as well as transit systems, green energy, veterans' hospitals and care for disabled and elderly Americans.
"I wouldn't vote for it," Sen. Bernie Sanders said Monday of the bipartisan proposal. "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."
Without Sanders on board, the bipartisan infrastructure package would need the support of at least 11 Republicans in order to pass the Senate.
And the Vermont independent was not the only Democrat to criticize the offer: Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the measure "very, very paltry and disappointing," though he indicated he would be willing to hold his nose and vote for the bill if all 50 members of the Democratic caucus agreed to vote for a bigger follow-up that would be passed using reconciliation.
At least two other Democrats – Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon – have hinted they will oppose any infrastructure bill that does not allocate money toward fighting climate change.
Progressive lawmakers are increasingly agitating to use budget reconciliation, an obscure Senate tool that allows them to bypass Republicans and pass legislation using their slimmest-possible majority, as negotiations drag into their fourth week. The push puts them at odds with the White House, which has signaled it's open to pursuing a bipartisan deal.
"Let's face it. It's time to move forward," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said last week during an interview with CNN. "The Republicans have held us up long enough."
That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the 100-member House Progressive Caucus, who maintained that she would not vote for a bill unless it included significant funding to address climate change.
With Republicans adamantly opposed to any tax hikes to fund the measure, Democrats are also starting to independently pursue a massive infrastructure bill.
"We’re pursuing two tracks: one bipartisan and one reconciliation," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters Tuesday, adding: "It may well be that part of the bill that'll pass will be bipartisan and part of it will be through reconciliation. But we're not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill."
Still, it's unclear whether the party could secure the support of all 50 Democrats in order to pass a measure using reconciliation: Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are both in the bipartisan group working on an infrastructure bill. Manchin also indicated Tuesday that he wants to see bipartisan talks continue and is not ready to support passing a package without Republicans.