The Senate is working on a major infrastructure bill that lawmakers hope will be signed by President Joe Biden by the end of September.
“There’s broad agreement on is to get to work on service, transportation, our roads, our highways, and our bridges. That’s a Democrat priority, it’s a Republican priority, it’s a priority of our new president,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.
Carper sent letters to every other senator asking them to spend the next several weeks learning about what the infrastructure needs are in their states and to provide input to his committee’s staffers by March 19.
The goal is to report the bill out of his committee before Memorial Day and have the president sign it by October. The starting point for the cost is $320 billion previously passed in a House transportation bill.
Carper hopes the bill can rebuild roads, highways, and bridges “in a way that acknowledges that climate change climate crisis.”
Democrats are fresh off passing a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package with zero Republican votes, a sign of how divided Washington has become after bipartisan relief efforts during the previous administration. Biden and leading Democrats ignored or brushed off many Republican attempts to amend the package, leading to fears they could do the same with future major efforts like the infrastructure bill.
“I am concerned about it because there’s a lot of chatter about just basically denigrating our ideas and saying ‘we’re just gonna go big,'” Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the ranking member on Carper’s committee, told reporters Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that if there’s any issue in the current environment that can garner bipartisan support, it’s infrastructure.
“This is really the best chance to do something together, maybe the only chance,” he told reporters. “Everybody needs roads and bridges and ports.”
Democrats used a budget process to cut Republicans out of the COVID-19 relief bill and could turn to that again with infrastructure, but would be facing resistance from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has said he doesn’t support using reconciliation for that matter.
“It’s just not right for us not to think that we can sit down as adults representing our respective states, work together as Democrats, Republicans and try to heal the country. That’s what Joe Biden talks about all the time,” he told reporters last week.
Democrats would need to secure at least one Republican vote in the evenly divided Senate if Manchin tries blocking a package.
The Biden administration is considering using tax hikes and other measures to pay for the infrastructure plan, an official said Monday. The White House has said there is no plan in place yet. Biden has met with Republican lawmakers on several occasions recently, soliciting their views on what should be in the proposal, which the president sees as a way to transition to more alternative energy sources.
“He believes that we can invest in areas like infrastructure and do that in a way that creates good-paying green jobs that are good-paying union jobs,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a recent briefing.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said last month that Democrats were discussing using reconciliation to get the infrastructure bill passed, but he thought it could get 60 votes in the upper chamber if it had earmarks.
Carper expressed confidence in getting at least 10 Republican votes. “All my colleagues, Democrat and Republican, know this is a huge challenge and the question is how do we face this challenge, and do so one way to get jobs and economic opportunity to make us stronger as a nation as well as healthier, as a nation,” he said. “We can do both and we need to.”