11 GOP senators back infrastructure deal as Democrats plot two-track approach to passage

·3 min read

Bipartisan support for an infrastructure deal grew Wednesday, as 21 senators — including 11 Republicans — publicly backed the proposal, a signal that talks have progressed as the White House-imposed deadline looms.

“We support this bipartisan framework that provides an historic investment in our nation’s core infrastructure needs without raising taxes,” the group said in a statement. “We look forward to working with our Republican and Democratic colleagues to develop legislation based on this framework to address America’s critical infrastructure challenges.”

The Republicans who backed the proposal as part of a so-called Group of 20 were Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana and Thom Tillis of North Carolina. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas added his support later Wednesday.

The statement provides no substantive details, but it is significant that 11 Republicans support the plan, which needs 60 votes to pass. Still, there's no guarantee that all 50 Democrats will vote for it.

Some progressive members, including Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., have drawn hard lines in recent days, saying they wouldn't vote for a bill that excluded priorities like mitigating climate change.

The new statement also comes one day after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that Democrats would craft a budget measure focused on economic legislation that can evade the filibuster, expressing confidence it would pass in July. Their public support indicates that Republicans feel the urgency to reach a deal on popular physical infrastructure measures soon or risk Democrats cutting them out of the process. Some Republicans have also been upset that talks between President Joe Biden and their chief negotiator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, collapsed.

It's also not clear that the statement signals an imminent deal that would translate to 10 GOP votes, as the group has not yet released key details on policy and financing mechanisms, which have been a sticking point between the two parties.

Some on the left want to pull the plug on bipartisan talks.

"We've already wasted three weeks of bipartisan negotiations, only for them to lead nowhere, and I think it would be foolish to think that a new group will yield anything different," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

But most Democrats are open to a deal with Republicans as long as it doesn't thwart their plans to pass a separate party-line bill that addresses other Biden administration priorities beyond physical infrastructure, including investments in child care and tackling climate change.

"These are not mutually exclusive tracks," Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told NBC News. "At the end of the day, even if we get a bipartisan agreement on a part of the package, we're going to need to use reconciliation to get other big pieces in the package. So that's why it's important to proceed on two tracks."

A Biden spokesman responded positively to a briefing from Democratic senators involved in the negotiations, calling it “productive and encouraging.”

“They look forward to briefing the president tomorrow after his return to the White House and continuing to consult with senators and representatives on the path forward," White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told NBC News.

A Monmouth University poll released earlier Wednesday found that 68 percent of American voters favor Biden's infrastructure proposal, including 41 percent of Republicans, while 29 percent oppose it.

Asked what Congress should do about his multitrillion-dollar infrastructure and safety-net spending plans, 46 percent said to pass them as proposed, 22 percent said cut them significantly to win bipartisan support and 24 percent said don't pass them at all.

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