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Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework'

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The Hill
The Hill
 2021-06-24
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Senators involved in bipartisan negotiations say they and White House officials have agreed to an infrastructure "framework," and they'll meet with President Biden Thursday to brief him.

“Republicans and Democrats have come together, along with the White House, and we’ve agreed on a framework and we’re gonna be heading to the White House tomorrow," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters after a meeting Wednesday.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another member of the group, confirmed the White House officials in the meeting signed off on the framework and that they "came to an agreement."

"They said it sounded good...We said we're all on the same page," Manchin added about the White House reaction in the meeting.

The plan, according to the senators, consists largely of details the bipartisan group has released in recent weeks as the senators tried to gain momentum for their proposal. It includes roughly the same amount of new spending, $579 billion, for a total of $974 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight years.

After days of high-profile confusion and divisions over how to pay for the agreement, senators emerged from Wednesday night's meeting saying that both the top-line and the how to pay for it had been locked in.

"There is a framework on a bipartisan infrastructure package," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), another member of the group, told reporters.

The agreement is effectively tentative until, and if, Biden signs off. Senators noted that they still also need to draft the legislation and iron out final details.

"There are always details ...we haven't written this down yet," Romney said.

Collins added that there are "still a lot of details to be worked out."

And the White House stopped short of putting Biden's stamp of approval on the framework ahead of Thursday's meeting, effectively making it a tentative agreement.

"White House senior staff had two productive meetings today with the bipartisan group of Senators who have been negotiating about infrastructure. The group made progress towards an outline of a potential agreement, and the President has invited the group to come to the White House tomorrow to discuss this in-person," White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement.

But it's still a boost for the likelihood that Biden is able to get his biggest legislative priority through Congress and a significant breakthrough for the chances of a bipartisan infrastructure package.

Senators and the administration have been locked in talks for months—first with a group of GOP senators led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and then with the bipartisan group, spearheaded by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

It's also a u-turn from even earlier Wednesday when the group faced skepticism from their colleagues that they would be able to get a deal.

Republicans, watching their colleagues try to capture what has effectively been a policy white whale for years, questioned if Democratic negotiators and the White House were on the same page.

"I think they are of two minds," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) about Democrats on whether or not to go-it-alone or get a bipartisan deal.

And Democrats have made it increasingly clear that they are ready to cut off the bipartisan talks and try to pass a massive infrastructure package on their own. Democrats can use reconciliation to avoid the 60-vote legislative filibuster in the Senate if they can unite all 50 of their members behind a plan.

But some, like Manchin, haven't yet committed to a Democratic-only package. Democrats also haven't agreed to the scope of such a plan with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suggestion that they could go as high as $6 trillion sparking pushback from others in the caucus.

Senators involved in the negotiations also say they felt intense pressure to at least lock in a framework of an agreement before the Senate leaves town for a two-week recess on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to have votes on both a bipartisan package and a budget resolution that would set up a second, separate larger Democratic-only bill during the chamber's brief July work period.

"Both tracks, the bipartisan track and the budget reconciliation track, are proceeding apace. And we hope to have voted on both of them ... in July," Schumer told reporters on Wednesday night after a roughly two-hour meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and White House officials.

Schumer clarified that he meant the "first act" of reconciliation while passing a budget resolution would be finished next month. Democrats have not set a hard timeline for when they think they could get the second step—a mammoth, detailed infrastructure bill—through the Senate, which is expected to leave in early August until mid-September.

And even while senators in the bipartisan groups touted that they had reached a "framework agreement" they still need to sell the plan to their own colleagues, in addition to Biden.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another member of the group, stopped short of using the word "framework," but stressed that they were "very close."

"We're going to have the outreach and the support to grow the vote from the middle out," Portman said.

Neither Schumer or Pelosi endorsed the framework on Wednesday night, or predicted how much support it could get, saying they wanted to see the details.

In a warning shot that the agreement isn't a done deal just because the White House officials and the bipartisan group signed off, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) warned that the deal didn't yet have the votes needed to pass the Senate.

"That deal has 20 votes — not 60 votes,” Chris Murphy said during a CNN interview, adding that they need to do a "deep dive."

Updated at 10:43 p.m.

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