House Democrats Eye Changes to Senate Infrastructure Deal

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House Democrats plan to seek changes to the Senate’s $973 billion bipartisan infrastructure framework through informal negotiations in the coming weeks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a key committee chairman said Wednesday.

The House is poised to pass its own $715 billion, five-year surface transportation and water infrastructure plan on Thursday. Unlike the bipartisan Senate deal, the bill doesn’t include a full suite of funding measures. It does contain major changes to highway and climate policies that are lacking in the Senate bill.

“Our caucus is very, very pleased with the bipartisan agreement that the president was able to achieve working with Democrats and Republicans in the Senate,” Pelosi said. “It has many good features to it in terms of numbers, but not policy.”

House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio said at the same briefing that the Senate proposals “are within shouting distance, so I believe we can work out the spending levels in the bill, but there is no policy attached to their proposal.”

Rather than waiting for the Senate to pass the bipartisan deal -- which is still being written into legislative language -- and then go into a formal House-Senate conference committee negotiation, immediate, high-level talks to reach a compromise would be preferable, DeFazio said.

Quickest Timeline

“If they want to dispatch of this quickly -- and they’re talking about July, which is a very quick timeline to, you know, negotiate policy in any major way, and the numbers again to help pay for them are outside my realm so I can’t comment on them at all -- then I would suggest it would probably be a much quicker, more informal process,” he said.

House Republicans are expected to mainly oppose the transportation and water package, even though it includes many earmarked projects from GOP members. The Senate’s bipartisan bill -- which amounts to $579 billion in new spending, or $973 billion when regular maintenance spending is factored in -- initially won support from 21 senators, including 11 Republicans, enough for it to pass by regular order in that chamber.

Some of those GOP senators have since objected, after it was linked by Biden to a bigger, Democrat-only budget bill.

Representative Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, signaled potential GOP support for a negotiated infrastructure bill but pushed back against the more expansive part of Biden’s agenda that the administration has sometimes referred to as social infrastructure.

‘Reasonable Conclusion’

“We need roads and bridges, airports, we need a robust infrastructure that needs to be continually updated,” McHenry, the ranking Republican on the Financial Services Committee, said Wednesday on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin.” “That is why I think we can come to a reasonable conclusion on infrastructure.”

House Democrats Eye Changes to Senate Infrastructure Deal

He said issues such as education, childcare and the cost of healthcare can be addressed by the government, but “that is a separate and distinct conversation.”

The House transportation bill has policies not in the Senate agreement, including prioritizing the repair of crumbling roads and bridges over new construction; giving states and localities more flexibility to determine best uses of federal dollars; and an $8 billion fund to reduce carbon emissions.

The House has also put forward billions of dollars in earmarked, local projects that Democrats have been touting in their districts for weeks.

Pelosi reiterated that any final infrastructure deal would not be voted on in the House until a separate multitrillion-dollar budget bill carrying President Joe Biden’s tax and social spending agenda clears the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week called on the speaker to de-link the two bills after Biden clarified that he would be willing to sign an infrastructure bill even if Congress does not send him the other budget bill to sign as well.

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