Biden: ‘We have a deal’ on infrastructure with bipartisan group of senators
(CNN) — President Joe Biden said Thursday he has agreed to a deal on infrastructure with a bipartisan group of senators after White House officials and the senators had a massive breakthrough the night before in their infrastructure negotiations.
Both Republican and Democratic senators said Wednesday evening there was an agreement reached with White House officials and 10 senators on a bipartisan infrastructure deal. And on Thursday afternoon, Biden said he had signed off on the agreement.
“To answer your direct question, we have a deal,” he said.
Though hurdles remain — it’s unclear if the proposal will have enough support from GOP senators or progressive lawmakers to end up as law — the announced agreement is a significant development that could pave the way for passage of a chunk of Biden’s domestic agenda.
“We all agree that none of us got all we wanted. I clearly didn’t get all I wanted, they gave more than I think maybe what they were planning to give in the first place,” Biden said. “But this reminds me of the days when we used to get an awful lot done up in the United States Congress.”
The President said: “Bipartisan deals mean compromise.”
Biden said later in the day that he would not sign the bipartisan infrastructure bill unless the investments he has proposed in his American Families Plan, which Democratic leadership plans on passing through the budget reconciliation process, also end up on his desk.
“If this is the only thing that comes to me, I’m not signing it. It’s in tandem,” Biden said.
The President said: “The bipartisan bill from the very beginning was understood there’s going to have to be the second part of it. I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest that I proposed. I proposed a significant piece of legislation in three parts. And all, all three parts are equally important.”
“For me, investment in our physical and human infrastructure (are) inextricably intertwined. Both make us better off and stronger,” Biden said.
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the House won’t take up the bipartisan bill until the Senate passes the larger, more sweeping infrastructure package through budget reconciliation.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell later expressed deep pessimism on Fox News over Democrats’ push to pass both the bipartisan deal and a reconciliation bill.
“What it does is put my members, including myself, who were optimistic about doing a bipartisan infrastructure bill in a position of our Democratic friends having to guarantee that the 2017 tax bill is unwound. That’s our one red line,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Republicans are grappling with whether to support the bipartisan deal, knowing that Democrats can push through a reconciliation bill either way, or to oppose the bipartisan measure and let Democrats own everything. McConnell’s rhetoric Thursday evening indicated he may be leaning towards embracing the latter argument.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who earlier had signed on to the framework deal with a few other GOP senators, tweeted: “If reports are accurate that President Biden is refusing to sign a bipartisan deal unless reconciliation is also passed, that would be the ultimate deal breaker for me.”
White House officials had worked to carefully choreograph Thursday in an effort to secure maximum impact — and momentum — for the bipartisan agreement.
Even before Biden went into his meeting with senators he’d made clear he was going to support the agreement, according to multiple sources. Presidential remarks were likely. A tweet announcing the deal was prepared. And Biden himself chose to join senators at their planned White House stakeout to announce the deal himself.
There’s a strategy behind the day on the messaging side — securing a bipartisan deal is a win for a President who promised he could deliver on what many said was aspirational in the current climate. But the public moves on Thursday can also be viewed through the legislative lens: White House officials are keenly aware that they have a long road ahead to lock in support for the agreement.
They are confident they will get there, officials say. But working to amp up momentum ahead of the process ahead was seen as a valuable asset.
The meeting itself did include a rundown of provisions, but Biden left little doubt where he stood from the moment he entered. Instead, the meeting was more focused on the President and senators discussing the importance of a bipartisan deal given where things stand with the country, in the Senate and with dilapidated American infrastructure.
Biden said Republicans and the bipartisan group of senators did not support the issues outlined in his American Families Plan, which calls for an additional $1.8 trillion federal spending on education, childcare and other priorities. The Families Plan is the second part of the President’s proposal to revitalize the nation and ensure a more equitable recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ll see what happens in the reconciliation bill, the budget process, and if we can get some compromise there — and if we can’t, see if I can attract all the Democrats to a position that is there, but we’re going to move on a dual track,” Biden said.
The President praised the deal that the group had agreed to on Thursday and said the investments the proposal would make were “long overdue,” and said the US was in a race with China and other countries that are making large-scale investments in their own infrastructures.
The President said: “One of the underlying questions is: Can democracies compete with autocratic enterprises in the 21st century? And this is a big move forward that, being able to complete. We have to move and we have to move fast.”
“We’ve devoted far too much energy to competing with one another and not nearly enough energy competing with the rest of the world to win the 21st century,” Biden said.
The President thanked each senator in the bipartisan group, which included Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Warner of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
Portman told reporters after the meeting: “I appreciate the fact that the President came out today to express what we all believe, which is we didn’t get everything we wanted, but we came up with a good compromise that’s going to help the American people.”
Sinema said after the meeting: “There are many who say that bipartisanship is dead in Washington, DC, and across this country. But this historic agreement today between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and with the President of the United States shows that when a group of people who are committed with shared values to solving the problems and challenges our country faces we can use bipartisanship to solve these challenges.”
Collins told reporters an agreement had been reached on the price tag of the proposal, the scope and how to pay for it.
“It was not easy to get agreement on all three, but it was essential,” Collins said.
As Biden spoke to reporters with the senators after the meeting, his top negotiating team — Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Louisa Terrell, Biden’s legislative affairs chief, stood with Vice President Kamala Harris about 20 feet away near the entrance to the West Wing with wide smiles on their faces.
Before Thursday’s Oval Office meeting, the President had been briefed by his team on the framework and had a “positive” view of what had been put together so far, according to a source familiar with the matter. Biden’s top aides signed off on where things landed on Wednesday night and that was viewed as a tacit acknowledgment he would be in the same place. Biden officially getting behind the measure marked a key milestone and lays the groundwork for the next steps.
A lot of work remains on the policy and drafting side of the proposal. But Biden and his team have grown increasingly bullish on the pathway a bipartisan agreement lays out for moving the full scope of the President’s $4 trillion economic agenda.
Many details of the plan remain unclear. But the total cost of the plan is $1.2 trillion over eight years, with $559 billion in new spending, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.
This proposal is significantly less than what Biden had initially proposed. The President initially put forward a $2.25 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and shift to greener energy over the next eight years.
But after their late-night meeting on Wednesday with White House officials, Democratic leaders said they planned to move forward with a much larger Democratic-only approach to dramatically expand the social safety plan in addition to the bipartisan infrastructure plan.
Romney and Manchin said the bipartisan proposal is fully paid for and offsets the new spending. How to pay for the proposal has been a major point of contention during the negotiations.
This story has been updated with further developments.
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