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Biden endorses Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure agreement

President Joe Biden on Thursday endorsed the bipartisan infrastructure framework clinched by 10 senators, appearing alongside them at the White House to declare “we have a deal.”

Biden’s backing came after senators and administration officials reached a breakthrough Wednesday evening and will only add momentum to the proposal as it winds through Congress. But while a White House green light marks significant progress, the infrastructure accord still has a long way to go before being enacted into law.

The president even vowed Thursday that he would not sign the bipartisan bill unless Democrats in Congress pass his other social spending priorities, including child care and clean energy.

“I’m going to fight like the devil to get that done,” Biden said Thursday. “I’m not just signing the bipartisan bill and forgetting about the rest I proposed.”

The bipartisan framework, led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would include close to $600 billion in new spending on roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure projects.

“No one got everything they wanted in the package,” Sinema said Thursday. “We all gave some to get some.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that he supports the framework, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized Biden for “threatening to veto” the bipartisan deal — shortly after endorsing it — if Democrats don’t pass his second bill.

“It was a tale of two press conferences, endorse the agreement in one breath and threaten to veto it in the next,” McConnell said Thursday afternoon on the Senate floor. “It almost makes your head spin … an expression of bipartisanship and then an ultimatum on behalf of your left-wing base.”

Schumer has emphasized that the infrastructure plan is currently on two tracks: the first is bipartisan, while the second is set to include policies that have no chance of getting Republican support.

“We have some urgency here, and we want to get things done as soon as we can,” Schumer told reporters on Thursday afternoon. “But what I’ve talked about in terms of a timeline is having both the bipartisan bill and the budget bill [setting up the Democratic-only package] on the floor of the Senate and passed in July.”

Schumer added that he and Pelosi are on the same page. Pelosi told a group of her members on Thursday morning that the House will not pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate also passes a party-line measure that includes more key pieces of Biden’s sprawling $4 trillion proposal.

“There ain’t no infrastructure bill without the reconciliation bill,” she said, according to a person on call.

Biden acknowledged in his remarks that Republicans “did not want to go along with my family plan issues,” such as child care and paid leave provisions that the president and fellow Democrats have dubbed “human infrastructure.” Those provisions would, under his party’s current plan, go into the larger, party-line legislation.

If there are any Democratic defections on the bipartisan package, McConnell could have major say over whether the bill passes the 50-50 Senate. Many Republicans are skeptical the deal is actually fully paid for.

“My sense is there’s much closer to 20 votes for that than 60 votes for” the bipartisan deal right now, said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). He acknowledged it’s “an open question” as to how Senate Democrats guarantee they’ll get the second package done: “I am not voting — there are not the votes — for the bipartisan package unless that question is sufficiently answered.”

On his way into Schumer’s office on Thursday morning, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he was even more optimistic than he was on Wednesday evening and said the last issue on paying for the legislation had been “cleared up.” He also acknowledged there was a lot more work ahead.

“We’ve got to convince more of our Republican colleagues to come on,” Warner said. “I am very aware as a member of the Budget Committee that there’s a lot of categories that the president has laid out and my Democratic colleagues have laid out that aren’t fully addressed on this.”

Progressives have insisted that they will sign onto the bipartisan package only with the guarantee of a second infrastructure package, which would include priorities like child care. While incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said he’d support it, others demurred. When asked whether he’d back the bipartisan talks, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said: “Why don’t you tell me what’s in it some day?”

According to an outline of the bipartisan framework that’s circulating on the Hill, new proposals to pay for the infrastructure deal include extending customs user fees, reinstatement of Superfund fees for chemicals and 5G spectrum auction proceeds. Those join existing proposals to increase IRS enforcement and reshuffle unused coronavirus relief money.

A separate outline states that the emerging agreement would dedicate $312 billion in new spending to transportation infrastructure and $266 billion to other infrastructure, including water and broadband.

With the Senate evenly split, every Democrat will need to sign on to the second bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who is taking part in the bipartisan negotiations, has indicated openness to supporting a package passed with only Democratic support using the protections of the budget process to sidestep a GOP filibuster. But it may not be the $6 trillion vision charted by progressives like Sanders.

“It is difficult,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “When we say we want Democrats, for example, to sign onto the reconciliation, Joe Manchin says to me, rightfully so: ‘What’s in it?’”

While the White House has long wanted to reach an agreement with Republicans and was willing to accept an offer far below its original proposal, it remained outwardly measured over the progress of negotiations. Two sources close to White House discussions describe an administration balancing the intense desire of a president to forge a bipartisan deal but at the same time having to bat back progressive outrage over ongoing discussions with Republicans.

“They want this deal so bad,” a Democrat close to the negotiations said of the White House. “But they can’t show it.”

Portman, however, acknowledged the long road ahead for the bipartisan framework to become law.

“This is just the first step in a long process,” he said. “We’re not even close to finished yet. I’ve been cautioning my colleagues who have been wanting to congratulate each other: This is just a very first step.”

Sarah Ferris, Alex Thompson and Maeve Sheehey contributed to this report.

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