(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol during a morning rainstorm, after Congress agreed to a multi-trillion dollar economic stimulus package created in response to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 Coronavirus, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2
By Richard Cowan and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan group of U.S. senators plans to meet with President Joe Biden on Thursday to discuss the framework for a possible deal on infrastructure, although some cautioned that unresolved issues remained.
“We came to an agreement on a plan that we have and we’re just going to try to wrap it up tomorrow,” a Democratic negotiator, Joe Manchin, said on Wednesday after the group met with White House officials.
The White House said meetings between the senators and administration officials had been productive.
“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 spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Passing a bill to rebuild roads, bridges and other traditional infrastructure is a major priority for the Democratic president.
Two Republican members of the bipartisan negotiating group, Senators Bill Cassidy and Mitt Romney, said there was a framework for an infrastructure investment plan. But Republican Senator Susan Collins said congressional leaders had yet to be briefed on the framework and there were still details to work out.
The group of 21 senators, or “G-21,” has been working on a$1.2 trillion, eight-year bipartisan infrastructure plan.
The White House turned its attention to the group of 21 senators after Biden rejected a Republican infrastructure proposal just over two weeks ago.
Biden, seeking to fuel growth after the coronavirus pandemic and address income inequality, initially proposed that about $2.3 trillion be spent on a broader definition of infrastructure, including fighting climate change and providing care for children and the elderly.
The White House trimmed the offer to about $1.7 trillion in a bid to win the Republican support needed for any plan to get the 60 votes normally required to advance legislation in the evenly split 100-seat Senate.
A team of White House officials met during the afternoon with nine Democrats, one independent and 11 Republicans in the Senate, before sitting down with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrats in Congress.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner said the framework was “much sturdier” than a previously announced one by a smaller group of 10 senators.
A major sticking point in the negotiations had been how to pay for the investments. Manchin said the framework encompassed a “long list” of so-called pay-fors, but he offered no specifics.
“We have a good balanced group of pay-fors. That was important to both sides. I will say in good faith we tried to get there. We didn’t agree on everything but we were able to get there,” Republican Senator Rob Portman, another negotiator, told reporters.
Biden has pledged not to increase taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000 a year, while Republicans are determined to protect a 2017 cut in corporate taxes.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders is working up a far more ambitious infrastructure blueprint of $6 trillion.
Schumer has said he plans to hold a July vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill and follow up in the autumn with a second Democratic-only measure.
The second bill, which Democrats could pass with the help of a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, would include significant additional spending on unconventional infrastructure programs, such as home healthcare for the elderly and others. That maneuver would require all 48 Democrats and the two independents that caucus with them to agree.
U.S. senators to meet with Biden Thursday to discuss framework for possible infrastructure deal