“It’ll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that,” Thune said. “The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation — in some ways, with certain Democrats — it gets a lot harder.”
The GOP bet might pay off. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was noncommittal Monday on a second infrastructure package, saying only that “there’s a lot more that needs to be done, so we need to work it the same way we’re working this one.” He declined to say whether he’d support legislation that only had Democratic votes.
“You’re putting words in your own mouth,” Manchin said. “I’m not saying that.”
What’s at stake is perhaps trillions of dollars in spending sought by Democrats to provide paid family leave, raise taxes on corporations and act on climate change. Those policies are more likely to fall by the wayside because, though there’s bipartisan hope for physical infrastructure, Democrats’ more progressive priorities have no chance of attracting GOP support.
The bipartisan framework Portman and Sinema are developing totals $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion in new spending. That’s more new money than a proposal Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va) presented to Biden earlier in the process, before their negotiations fell apart.
Despite the increase in the top-line number, even the most conservative Senate Republicans are holding their fire and declining to criticize the proposal. Negotiators are expected to outline the deal in further detail Tuesday at the Senate Republican lunch, according to a source familiar with the talks.
Democrats, meanwhile, are aware that their time to get something done is dwindling and that a bipartisan agreement could take up significant floor time. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday said that the infrastructure talks are proceeding on two tracks. The New York Democrat described the first track as bipartisan, while the second encompasses elements of Biden’s plan that won’t get GOP support.
Progressives for weeks have urged Democrats to move swiftly and ditch Republicans in the hopes of getting the most ambitious package possible. A spokesperson for Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) confirmed he’d oppose a bipartisan package, increasing the number of Republicans needed to sign on. But as of now, it’s not clear that Biden’s party has the votes to proceed along party lines while sidestepping a filibuster through the so-called budget reconciliation process, regardless of what it includes. Democrats said Monday that they will need to have a broader discussion as a caucus about the second package.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is participating in the bipartisan discussions, said he was “not sure everyone in the caucus” has made a commitment to the arduous step of reconciliation. And Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added that Democrats discussed last week whether the members now joining Portman and Sinema’s talks will “be with us on reconciliation for what is not…