US president Joe Biden secured agreement on an infrastructure package on Thursday, paving the way for a major legislative achievement but with a price-tag far below his original target.
Speaking after a meeting with a group of senators from both the Democratic and Republican side of the Senate in the White House, Mr Biden told reporters: “We have a deal,” though he added, “none of us got all that we wanted”.
The package envisages $1 trillion in spending on infrastructure such as roads and bridges over the next eight years, lower than the $2.3 trillion originally proposed by the White House.
But as part of the negotiations, Democrats are hoping to progress a separate Bill in tandem that will legislate for billions more in spending, known as the American Family Plan, which focuses on less tangible outlays such as childcare, education and clean energy while also including proposed tax increases.
Senior White House officials had laid the ground for Thursday’s bipartisan deal after holding successful discussions with senators on Capitol Hill earlier in the week.
Mr Biden hailed the agreement as “long overdue” and one which will “create millions of American jobs and modernise our American infrastructure to compete with the rest of the world”.
“We are in a race with China and the rest of the world for the 21st century,” he said. “They’re not waiting. They’re investing tens of billions of dollars.”
Among the projects covered by the plan are clean energy, investment in high-speed internet, an upgrade of the power grid, and a major investment in public transportation.
The president, who has prided himself on his track record of working with Republicans across the aisle during his 36 years as a senator, thanked the Republican senators who supported the plan. “There’s nothing our nation can’t do when we decide to do it together,” he said. “Today is the latest example of that truth. We are the United States of America. There is not a single thing we can’t do when we work together.”
A battle looms
While Wall Street rallied on news of the infrastructure deal, a battle looms over the second part of the package, with House speaker Nancy Pelosi warning that both packages must proceed in tandem or the House of Representatives will not support the bipartisan deal.
Mr Biden also said that both packages must “move through the legislative process promptly and in tandem”, stressing that it was always understood that there would be a second part to the Bill. “We need physical infrastructure but we also need human infrastructure too.”
With Democrats holding a slim majority in the House, Ms Pelosi must ensure that the progressive wing of her party is on board with the just-agreed deal that many see as insufficient.
On the Senate side, it looks likely to reach the 60 votes necessary to withstand the filibuster because of the support of several Republicans. But the American Families Plan will be passed through the budget reconciliation process – a voting system that requires all 50 Democrats to back the deal.
Democratic senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who attended Thursday’s meeting at the White House, indicated that they would be less likely to back the American Families Plan, particularly if it comes with a price tag of $6 trillion, as suggested by Senator Bernie Sanders.
Mr Biden, who later travelled to North Carolina to promote Covid-19 vaccination, also criticised Republicans for blocking a procedural vote on the Voting Rights Act earlier this week in the Senate.
“This is the sacred right to vote . . . it is the most important right you have,” he said, referring to efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures across the country to introduce new restrictions on how and when people can vote.
Mr Biden has faced criticism from some members of his party for not engaging more with the battle on Capitol Hill to pass a Voting Rights Act.