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Policymakers Remain Far Apart on Bipartisan Infrastructure Package; Senate Ruling Limits Reconciliation as Fast-Track Option

  • June 4, 2021

President Biden and Sen. Capito

Policymakers this week remained far apart on the scope and cost of a possible bipartisan infrastructure package, as President Biden floated a 15% minimum corporate tax to partially fund his pared-down proposal. Meanwhile, a recent Senate Parliamentarian ruling would limit the use of a fast-track budget process called “reconciliation” that could allow Democrats to bypass Republicans and pass legislation on a party-line vote. (Washington Post, June 3, The Hill and New York magazine, June 2)  

[Photo above: President Biden discusses infrastructure with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)]

Seeking New Spending

  • President Biden recently reduced his original infrastructure package cost from $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion – and is now looking for at least $1 trillion in new spending from Republicans on infrastructure. Biden this week proposed raising these funds partially through a new 15% minimum corporate tax, which would replace his initial proposal to raise the corporate income rate to 28% from 21%. (BGov and New York Times, June 3)

  • Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is leading GOP lawmakers in negotiations with the White House, last week counteroffered with $928 billion – although it limits new spending to $257 billion for traditional “hard” infrastructure such as roads, bridges and other public works. Republicans proposed the remaining $671 billion come from repurposed funding previously passed as part of the American Rescue Plan Act’s Covid-19 relief effort. Democrats have rejected repurposing of funds. (Roundtable Weekly, May 28 and AP, May 27)

  • The U.S. Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities and National Association of Counties recently expressed their “adamant opposition to any proposal that would detrimentally recoup and repurpose funds allocated to local governments” from coronavirus relief funds. (NLC news release, June 1 and joint letter, May 27)

  • The coalition’s joint letter to congressional leadership, stated, “Local governments are using these critical recovery funds to invest in public safety, vaccine distribution, housing and rental assistance, local economic support, economic and workforce development, broadband expansion, social safety-net services, hospitality and tourism development, and hazard pay for public employees.”

Time is Short

The White House with Washington Monument

  • White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki this week said, “Patience is not unending, and [President Biden’s] wants to make progress. His only line in the sand is inaction. He wants to sign a bill into law this summer.” (White House Press Briefing, June 2)

  • The No. 3-ranked House Democrat, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, yesterday said time is short to complete negotiations on a bipartisan package. “I don’t think we should run the risk of not getting something done because the other side is not cooperating.” (Bloomberg’s Balance of Tower, June 3)

  • Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on Thursday added that Democrats would soon take actions to use the budget reconciliation process to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote requirement to pass legislation and push through a bill on a party line vote.  Cardin said that Democrats are “going as far as we can with Republicans and not delay[ing] it beyond this work period without seeing some action.” (Politico, June 3)

  • Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) said last week that he wants to move forward on an infrastructure bill in July, whether it is bipartisan or not. (The Hill, May 25)

Limits on Reconciliation

Senate side - Capitol Building

  • The Democrats’ alternative plan to use reconciliation to bypass Republican opposition on infrastructure legislation may be slowed by a recent Senate Parlimentarian ruling. Congressional Democrats used reconciliation in March to pass the administration’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. (Roundtable Weekly, March 12)

  • Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough’s four-page opinion, issued to Senate staff on May 28, stated, "overuse and over-reliance on a hyper-fast track procedure in the ordinarily deliberative Senate … will change the culture of the institution to the detriment of the committee and amendment processes and the rights of all Senators." (CQ, June 2)

  • The new guidance adds that lawmakers intended the reconciliation provision to be used only “in extraordinary circumstances and not for things that should have been or could have been foreseen and handled” in a regular budget resolution. 

The ruling suggests that Democrats will be restricted to one additional opportunity this year to use reconciliation to pass a filibuster-proof legislative package.  (Roll Call, June 2 and The Hill, June 4)

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