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Infrastructure Talks Risky for Agenda  07/28 06:02

   President Joe Biden's latest leap into the Senate's up-and-down efforts to 
clinch a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure deal comes with even more at 
stake than his coveted plans for boosting road, rail and other public works 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden's latest leap into the Senate's 
up-and-down efforts to clinch a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure deal 
comes with even more at stake than his coveted plans for boosting road, rail 
and other public works projects.

   The outcome of the infrastructure bargaining, which for weeks has 
encountered one snag after another, will impact what could be the crown jewel 
of his legacy. That would be his hopes for a subsequent $3.5 trillion federal 
infusion for families' education and health care costs, a Medicare expansion 
and efforts to curb climate change.

   Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will need support 
from every Democratic moderate and progressive to push the $3.5 trillion bill 
through the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote. 
If the infrastructure talks implode, it may be harder for moderates -- who rank 
its projects as their top priority -- to back the follow-up $3.5 trillion plan, 
which is already making them wince because of its price tag and likely tax 
boosts on the wealthy and corporations.

   "I would say that if the bipartisan infrastructure bill falls apart, 
everything falls apart," West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, one of his chamber's 
most conservative Democrats, warned reporters this week.

   That could well prove an overstatement, since moderates like him will face 
enormous pressure from Biden, Schumer and others to back the $3.5 trillion 
package, whatever the bipartisan plan's fate. But it illustrates a balancing 
act between centrists and progressives that top Democrats must confront.

   "If infrastructure collapses, which I hope it does not, you'd have the 
difficulty of holding some of the Democrats" to back the $3.5 trillion bill, 
No. 2 House leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday in a brief interview. Party 
leaders will be able to lose no more than three Democrats to prevail in the 
435-member House.

   Both sides in the talks were expressing renewed optimism Tuesday about 
prospects for a deal, a view they've expressed before without producing 
results. The uncertainty underscored that Democrats were at a promising yet 
precarious point for their agenda, with stakes that seem too big for them to 
fail yet failure still possible.

   Biden met at the White House on Tuesday with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, 
a leader of moderate Democrats who've been laboring to strike an infrastructure 
deal with GOP senators. The president also used several tweets to prod 
lawmakers, including one saying, "There are no Democratic roads or Republican 
bridges -- infrastructure impacts us all and I believe we've got to come 
together to find solutions."

   White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden and Sinema "are very much 
aligned on the path forward" and expressed optimism, but also said the 
president was "not setting new deadlines" for a deal. Several target dates for 
reaching an agreement have come and gone, though Schumer wants a Senate vote on 
a package before sending lawmakers home for an August recess.

   Sinema is a centrist who's alienated some Democrats who consider her 

   Illustrating that, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., told House Democrats 
privately Tuesday that the infrastructure accord senators are trying to 
complete is "crap," according to two people who attended the session and 
described it on condition of anonymity. He also said the measure was being 
crafted by "three Republicans," pointedly naming Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, 
Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sinema, they said.

   Moderate Democrats have long made an infrastructure deal their top priority. 
The bipartisanship such an accord would display plus the meat-and-potatoes 
spending it would bring back home have made that their goal over the separate 
$3.5 trillion measure for family and environmental programs.

   If the infrastructure talks fail, it would deprive moderates of a victory 
that if reached might leave them more open to making concessions on the $3.5 
trillion measure. A collapse could also trigger fresh internal Democratic 
fighting over how much of the infrastructure spending would be transferred to 
the huge domestic spending plan, and how that would affect its overall price 

   Even Republicans are divided over the infrastructure measure and what a 
failure of the bipartisan talks would mean as both parties eye 2022 elections 
in which House and Senate control are fully in play.

   Some Republicans worry that approval of a bipartisan infrastructure plan 
would help Democrats pass their $3.5 trillion measure by making moderate 
Democrats more prone to cooperate with their colleagues on that subsequent, 
costlier legislation.

   They also say supporting the infrastructure measure would let Democrats rope 
the GOP into sharing the blame if inflation or other economic problems take 
hold amid massive federal spending programs.

   But others say that since Republicans won't be able to stop Democrats from 
passing their $3.5 trillion bill, the GOP might as well back an infrastructure 
agreement. That would let Republicans haul a share of its $1 trillion in 
popular projects back to their home states.

   Democrats plan to use special budget rules that would prevent Republicans 
from using a filibuster -- a delay that takes 60 Senate votes to halt -- to 
derail the $3.5 trillion measure.

   These Republicans also say passage of the infrastructure measure would make 
it harder for Manchin and Sinema -- and moderate Democrats facing reelection in 
swing states, like New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan and Arizona's Mark Kelly -- to 
vote for an even larger $3.5 trillion plan.

   "I think it puts their members more on the defensive and having to defend 
very, in my view, indefensible spending and taxing," said No. 2 Senate GOP 
leader John Thune of South Dakota.


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