September 25, 2021

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Key Republicans Say They’re Ready to Take Up an Infrastructure Deal – The New York Times

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The White House and a bipartisan group of senators agreed on Wednesday on a far-reaching infrastructure bill, and Democrats were pressing to schedule a vote to advance as soon as Wednesday evening, paving the way for action on a crucial piece of President Biden’s agenda.

“We now have an agreement on the major issues, and we’re prepared to move forward,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and a lead negotiator for his party on the infrastructure measure.

Touring a truck manufacturing plant in Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden was upbeat about the emerging deal, telling reporters, “I feel confident about it.”

The proposal was expected to fill in the details of an outline the group triumphantly announced at the White House in late June, but spent weeks haggling over as they toiled to translate it into legislative text while keeping their fragile coalition together.

According to a fact sheet released Wednesday afternoon by the White House, the resulting bill would provide about $550 billion in new federal money for roads, bridges, rail, transit, water and other physical infrastructure programs.

Many of its spending provisions are unchanged from the original framework announced last month. But it appeared to pare spending in a few areas, including reducing money for public transit to $39 billion from $49 billion and eliminating a $20 billion “infrastructure bank” meant to catalyze private investment in large projects.

The loss of the infrastructure bank appeared to cut in half the funding for electric vehicle charging stations that administration officials had said was included in the original agreement, jeopardizing Mr. Biden’s promise to create a network of 500,000 charging stations nationwide.

The new agreement significantly changes how the infrastructure spending will be paid for, after Republicans balked at a pillar of the original framework: increased revenue from an I.R.S. crackdown on tax cheats, which was set to supply nearly one-fifth of the funding for the plan.

Instead, negotiators agreed to repurpose more than $250 billion from previous Covid relief legislation, including $50 billion from expanded unemployment benefits that have been canceled prematurely this summer by two dozen Republican governors, according to a fact sheet reviewed by The New York Times. That is more than double the repurposed money in the original deal.

The new agreement would save $50 billion by delaying a Medicare rebate rule passed under President Donald J. Trump and raise nearly $30 billion by applying tax information reporting requirements to cryptocurrency. It also proposes to recoup $50 billion in fraudulently paid unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

Republicans blocked the Senate from moving ahead with the plan last week, saying that too many issues remained unresolved. Mr. Portman’s comments and those of other Republicans in the group, who spoke after meeting with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, suggested that they had cleared away the biggest obstacles to a deal.

It remained unclear whether enough Republicans would join the five core negotiators in advancing the measure, although some G.O.P. senators outside the group signaled that they would be open to moving forward.

“It’s not perfect but it’s, I think, in a good place,” said Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, who said he would vote in favor of taking it up.

Some Senate Democrats, including at least one key committee chairman, said they were still reviewing the plan before deciding whether to support it.

“We’re very excited to have a deal,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a key Democratic negotiator, told reporters. “Everyone has been incredible and doing this work for many months.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, had expressed optimism as well, and said a test vote on the measure could come as early as Wednesday night.

If the compromise holds, Democrats will have to maneuver it through the evenly divided Senate over a Republican filibuster, which will require the support of all 50 Democrats and independents and at least 10 Republicans. That could take at least a week, particularly if Republicans opposed to it opt to slow the process. Should the measure clear the Senate, it will also have to pass the House, where some liberal Democrats have balked at the emerging details.

But the five Republicans who have spearheaded the deal with Democrats — Mr. Portman and Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Mitt Romney of Utah — urged their colleagues to support a measure they said would provide badly needed funding for infrastructure projects across the country.

“I am amazed that there are some who oppose this, just because they think that if you ever get anything done, somehow it’s a sign of weakness,” Mr. Cassidy declared, describing the needs of his voters. “We’re not going to delay relieving their problem.”

Mr. Romney drew a distinction between the emerging agreement and a more expansive $3.5 trillion budget package that Democrats are preparing to push through both chambers unilaterally, over the objections of Republicans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has said she will not take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House until that second package — expected to pour billions into programs to address climate change, health care, child care and education — passes the Senate.

“I love this bill; the other I can’t stand,” Mr. Romney said, citing concerns about inflation. “I’m confident that we will be able to get it across the finish line.”

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