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Senators, WH in Talks to Finish Bill   07/27 15:09

   Senators and the White House are locked in intense negotiations to salvage a 
bipartisan infrastructure deal, with pressure mounting on all sides to wrap up 
talks and show progress on President Joe Biden's top priority.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators and the White House are locked in intense 
negotiations to salvage a bipartisan infrastructure deal, with pressure 
mounting on all sides to wrap up talks and show progress on President Joe 
Biden's top priority.

   Despite weeks of closed-door discussions, senators from the bipartisan group 
blew past a Monday deadline set for agreement on the nearly $1 trillion 
package. Instead they hit serious roadblocks over how much would be spent on 
public transit and water infrastructure and whether the new spending on roads, 
bridges, broadband and other projects would be required to meet federal wage 
requirements for workers. They're also at odds over drawing on COVID-19 funds 
to help pay for it.

   Republican negotiator Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, who took the lead in key 
talks with a top White House aide, insisted the bipartisan group was "making 
progress."

   "This is heading in the right direction," Portman told reporters at the 
Capitol. "It's a big, complicated bill."

   Biden struck a similarly upbeat tone, telling reporters at the White House 
he remained optimistic about reaching a compromise.

   This is a crucial week after more than a monthlong slog of negotiations 
since Biden and the bipartisan group first celebrated the contours of the 
nearly $1 trillion bipartisan agreement in June, and senators were warned they 
could be kept in session this weekend to finish the work.

   The White House wants a bipartisan agreement for this first phase, before 
Democrats go it alone to tackle broader priorities in a bigger $3.5 trillion 
budget plan that's on deck. A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC found 
8 in 10 Americans favor some increased infrastructure spending, and the current 
package could be a political win for all sides as lawmakers try to show voters 
that Washington can work. Securing the bipartisan bill is also important for 
some centrist Democrats before engaging in the broader undertaking.

   But as talks drag on, anxious Democrats, who have slim control of the House 
and Senate, face a timeline to act on what would be some of the most 
substantial legislation in years. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants 
progress on both packages before the August recess, and he told senators to 
brace for a Saturday or Sunday session.

   White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden himself "worked the phones 
all weekend," and the administration was encouraged by the progress. But Psaki 
acknowledged "time is not endless."

   Adding to the mix, Donald Trump issued a statement Monday disparaging Senate 
Republicans for even dealing with the Democrats on infrastructure, though it's 
unclear what influence he has. The former president had failed at an 
infrastructure deal when he was in office.

   "It's time for everyone to get to 'yes,'" Schumer said as he opened the 
Senate.

   Schumer said Trump is "rooting for our entire political system to fail" 
while Democrats are "rooting for a deal."

   The bipartisan package includes about $600 billion in new spending on public 
works projects, with broad support from Republicans and Democrats for many of 
the proposed ideas.

   Yet there was little to show Monday after a grinding weekend of talks, 
putting the deal at risk of stalling out.

   The Democrats and the White House had sent what they called a "global" offer 
to Republicans on remaining issues late Sunday, according to a Democratic aide 
close to the talks and granted anonymity to discuss them.

   But Republicans rebuffed the ideas, saying the new proposal attempted to 
reopen issues that had already been resolved, according to a GOP aide also 
granted anonymity to discuss the private talks.

   Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it's time for Biden to become more 
involved. "I think it's imperative that the president indicates strongly that 
he wants a bipartisan package," she said.

   A top Biden aide, Steve Ricchetti, was tapped for the direct talks as 
Portman fielded information to the other senators in the group, several 
senators said.

   Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said, "There were too many cooks in 
the kitchen."

   While much of the disagreement has been over the size of spending on each 
category, labor issues have also emerged as a flashpoint.

   Democrats are insisting on a prevailing-wage requirement, not just for 
existing public works programs but also for building new roads, bridges, 
broadband and other infrastructure, according to another Republican granted 
anonymity to discuss the private talks.

   At the same time, transit funding has been a stubborn source of disagreement 
for the past several days.

   Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, the top Republican on the Senate Banking, 
Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which oversees public transit, raised 
questions about the size of the transit funding increase. He cited, in part, 
previous COVID-19 federal relief money that had already been allocated to 
public transit.

   Democrats and public transit advocates don't want spending to go any lower 
than what's typically been a federal formula of about 80% for highways and 20% 
for transit. They see expanded public transit systems as key to easing traffic 
congestion and combating climate change.

   Psaki has previously said transit funding "is obviously extremely important 
to the president -- the 'Amtrak President,' as we may call him."

   The senators also appeared to still be debating money for public water works 
and removal of lead pipes after Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, raised questions 
about the amount.

   Also unresolved is how to pay for the bipartisan package after Democrats 
rejected a plan to bring in funds by hiking the gas tax drivers pay at the pump 
and Republicans dashed a plan to boost the IRS to go after tax scofflaws.

   Funding could come from repurposing COVID relief aid, reversing a Trump-era 
pharmaceutical rebate and other streams. It's possible the final deal could run 
into political trouble if it doesn't pass muster as fully paid for when the 
Congressional Budget Office assesses the details.

   The final package would need the support of 60 senators in the evenly split 
50-50 Senate to advance past a filibuster -- meaning at least 10 Republicans 
along with every Democratic member. A test vote last week failed along party 
lines as Republicans sought more time to negotiate.

   Meanwhile, Democrats are readying the broader $3.5 trillion package, which 
would go beyond public works to include child care centers, family tax breaks 
and other priorities. It is being considered under budget rules that allow 
passage with 51 senators in the split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris 
able to break a tie. That package would be paid for by increasing the corporate 
tax rate and the tax rate on Americans earning more than $400,000 a year.

 
 
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