Bipartisan Senate group reaches tentative infrastructure deal, but skepticism prevails

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WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 10 senators said Thursday that they had reached a tentative infrastructure deal, but skepticism from Republicans and impatience from Democrats left its prospects uncertain as lawmakers departed for the weekend.

"We are discussing our approach with our respective colleagues, and the White House, and remain optimistic that this can lay the groundwork to garner broad support from both parties and meet America's infrastructure needs," said a joint statement from the senators, who include Mitt Romney, R-Utah; Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Jon Tester, D-Mont.

The deal includes $579 billion in new spending for a total of $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funding over eight years, according to two sources familiar with the talks, who requested anonymity to share details.

The senators said in their statement that the proposal would "be fully paid for and not include tax increases." They accelerated their work after talks between President Joe Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., broke down this week.

The other senators in the group are Susan Collins, R-Maine; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Bill Cassidy, R-La.; Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

But other senators sounded skeptical.

Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Republican leadership, said an agreement among the 10 senators would be "a pretty low-entry step to a deal" that can get 60 votes to pass the chamber.

Any deal would be likely to need the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to attract the 10 Republicans needed to defeat a filibuster. The failure of Capito's talks, which included numerous McConnell deputies, was a warning sign for bipartisan prospects.

Republicans are trying to weigh the politics of the talks and whether they might be seen as resisting too much or not enough.

"I remain open-minded. It's the best bet we have right now for something that's not just jamming something down our throats," said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.

But Cramer also voiced skepticism, saying Capito's effort was "the best chance" to get broad Republican agreement on an infrastructure package.

Democrats are not on the same page about what should happen next, with some insisting they won't support a deal that excludes priorities like clean energy investments to combat climate change.

"There's no guarantee that there's 50 Democratic votes for whatever this group works out," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said: "From my perspective: No climate. No bill. No deal."

Some Democrats are trying to pressure their leadership to abandon bipartisan talks and instead push through a partisan bill, but there's no guarantee that there are 50 Democratic votes for that tactic, either.

In a statement Thursday, deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates said White House staff members were briefed earlier in the day by Democratic senators working on infrastructure.

"The president appreciates the senators' work to advance critical investments we need to create good jobs, prepare for our clean energy future and compete in the global economy," he said. "Questions need to be addressed, particularly around the details of both policy and pay-fors, among other matters."

Bates said senior White House staff members and other aides will work with the Senate group "to get answers to those questions."

As he was leaving the Capitol on Thursday, Manchin declined to say how he would vote if Democrats began to move a package without Republicans.

"Haven't even thought about it," he said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Thursday that party leaders were "not counting" votes, meaning there has not yet been a pressure campaign to get them in unison.

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who faces re-election next year, said he favors a bipartisan deal as "the first option," without taking a simple-majority approach off the table.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said that he is "very comfortable" with using the filibuster-proof process to pass an infrastructure package and that it wouldn't preclude winning some GOP support along the way.

"I like the bipartisan discussions. If we can do a bipartisan bill, that's great. Even if we can't do a bipartisan bill, the fact that there's been discussions — we'll incorporate the wisdom from those discussions into a reconciliation bill, and it will be a better bill as a result of it," Kaine said.

"Even if we go via reconciliation, I think it's going to be wildly popular with Republican governors, wildly popular with Republican mayors," he said. "Hope we'll get some Republican votes."

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he wants to begin the process without Republicans and pass a bill "as quickly as we can."

"The clock is ticking," Sanders said.