Reconciliation bill may limit GOP support for infrastructure

The $3.5 trillion reconciliation measure has renewed the debate over whether it might tank the separate infrastructure plan

Senate Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation package "muddies the picture" for Republicans who might support a separate, bipartisan infrastructure agreement, said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Senate Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation package "muddies the picture" for Republicans who might support a separate, bipartisan infrastructure agreement, said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 15, 2021 at 8:26am

The $3.5 trillion reconciliation agreement reached late Tuesday by Senate Democrats and the White House has renewed the debate over whether passing it alongside the bipartisan infrastructure plan agreed to last month could tank the bipartisan plan. 

Key Senate Republicans said Wednesday the reconciliation agreement, which would push through some of President Joe Biden’s domestic priorities over GOP objections, could imperil Republican support for the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which includes $579 billion in new spending.

“It muddies the picture,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D. 

“I think it's a distraction from the infrastructure bill, which was building, you know, good bipartisan support,” Thune said, adding that the two bills “are going to have to ride together,” which “certainly complicates any effort to secure Republican votes for the infrastructure bill itself.”

The 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans who comprise a group trying to forge an agreement met in small groups throughout Wednesday, hoping to iron out by Thursday the remaining differences over how to pay for the bill so that they can draft text for the legislation over the weekend. 

But even as the group negotiated, the separate reconciliation bill, which Democratic congressional leaders have said must be agreed to before they put the bipartisan infrastructure bill up for a vote, remains a worry for Republicans who resent the linkage and the Democrats who will need their votes in the Senate. 

“There’s not a lot of trust around this place,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, adding that the strategy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to move both bills together “raises a lot of skepticism about the good faith of the negotiations.”

Still, he said, “I would support a bipartisan infrastructure bill that is responsibly paid for, regardless of what the Democrats would do on reconciliation.

“I figure that they’re going to try that anyway,” he said. “And rather than just not accomplish anything, I’d like to do something responsible on a bipartisan basis and then let them try to do what they’re going to try to do anyway.” 

Sequence

Schumer, who had said earlier he hoped to have the bipartisan bill on the floor as early as next week, reiterated Wednesday that he feels confident the Senate will pass both packages by the August recess. He would not advocate pushing one bill before the other, even when pressed by reporters.

“We have to have total agreement on both before we move either,” he said.

But in a hint that the sequencing of the bills is being debated, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a member of both the Senate Budget Committee, which is negotiating reconciliation, and the bipartisan infrastructure group, laughed when he was asked whether the timing of each bill’s floor consideration mattered.

“Which side do you want me to argue?” he replied, adding, “let’s see how (sic) the next 24 hours produces.” 

Some Republicans said they’re closely watching Democrats’ receptiveness to the $3.5 trillion agreement. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the bipartisan group, said he will be watching to find out “what are my Democrat colleagues thinking? Is that something that’s realistic, that this is going to pass?”

And bipartisan group member Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said her GOP colleagues should not be spooked by the reconciliation agreement. 

“I think that the work that we’re doing on the bipartisan effort is a separate effort from what's going on with reconciliation,” she said, adding, “You basically have two separate tracks here. You've got reconciliation going on. The president said he was going to commit to that, just as he said he was going to commit to the bipartisan bill.”

Lindsey McPherson, Jennifer Shutt and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.