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White House, lawmakers strike deal on infrastructure

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US President Joe Biden announced he has reached an agreement with a bipartisan group of senators on a major infrastructure package, after weeks of tense negotiations in Washington./AFP
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Jun 25, 2021 - 12:56 AM

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden on Thursday announced that a deal has been reached with a bipartisan group of senators to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, likely unlocking the most funding for roads, bridges, ports and broadband in decades.

The lawmakers have “come together and forged an agreement that will create millions of American jobs, and modernize our American infrastructure to compete with the rest of the world and own the 21st century,” Biden said at the White House.

The president sat down with the senators earlier in the day to cap weeks of tense negotiations on Capitol Hill, where Democrats and Republicans have squared off over the size and scope of the funding.

But Biden hailed the breakthrough as a shining example of how Washington can reach consensus on major investments when both parties work together — essentially a validation of his call for bipartisanship on the most necessary aspects of governing.

He described the deal as “breaking the ice that too often has kept us frozen in place and prevented us from solving the real problem facing the American people.”

The deal came together late Wednesday, with the senators agreeing on a $973 billion package over five years, with some $559 billion in new funding.

Biden stressed that the massive plan — which includes the largest-ever investment in US bridges and public transport — met his requirement of not raising taxes on anyone making under $400,000 per year.

“We’re going to do it all without raising a cent” in new taxes, he said.

Instead, the plan is to boost enforcement of existing tax law to recover underreported taxes from wealthier Americans.

“No one got everything they wanted in this package. We all gave some to get some because what we did was put first the needs of our country,” said Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat from Arizona.

“This does represent a historic investment in our country’s infrastructure.”

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy agreed, calling the bill “great progress.”

“A bridge is coming near you. Not right away, not tomorrow, not next year,” he said. “But we’ve begun the process.”

‘Tandem’ bills 

But negotiations on infrastructure are not over; selling the plan to Congress is just beginning.

Biden has proposed some $2 trillion in infrastructure spending over eight years, including funding for some of his priorities like climate change mitigation, child care, schools and social services.

Republicans firmly opposed any inclusion of such projects in the deal, saying only traditional infrastructure like roads, airports or broadband internet should be included.

But Democratic leaders are insisting that the “human infrastructure” projects be funded in a second track known as budget reconciliation, which can pass the 100-member Senate with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes necessary to advance major legislation.

“We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes a bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned earlier Thursday.

That statement drew applause from progressive Democrats, including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the first votes on the bipartisan bill should be held in July.

He also said that while he was “encouraged” by the progress of the bipartisan group, he — like Pelosi — insists on two bills operating in tandem.

“If the Senate is going to move forward with a bipartisan infrastructure bill, we must also move forward on a budget resolution as well,” he said.

Biden expressed support for that very plan, saying he will work to ensure that “both move through the legislative process promptly, and in tandem,” and that if they both do not reach his desk, he will not sign either of them into law.

The president acknowledged he had no guarantee that the plans had enough votes to cross the finish line, but said that his several decades in Washington have given him “a pretty good read” of Congress.

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