Washington (CNN)President Joe Biden’s bipartisan push faces a crucial moment on Capitol Hill this month where talks over several big-ticket items could lead to major legislative victories hailed by both parties — or they could collapse and prompt a bitter round of recriminations and open partisan warfare.
It’s a big week for talks: On Wednesday, Biden is slated to host his first meeting at the White House with Republican and Democratic leadership from the House and Senate since taking office. The following day, he’ll meet with six GOP senators on infrastructure.
Republican and Democratic sources say that the outcome of a number of major items — Biden’s infrastructure plan, policing legislation and a bill to curb China’s influence — could go either way this month, leading a bipartisan coalition to push a fragile compromise through a divided Congress or prompting the parties to give up on finding a deal. While there’s been progress on some key issues in the effort to overhaul policing, and a top House Democrat on Sunday signaled openness to accepting a deal that does not end qualified immunity, several sources familiar with discussions were wary that a deal could be reached by Biden’s May 25 deadline, the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
The ultimate outcome of these talks in May could help define Biden’s first term, since 2021 remains a crucial period for policymaking, while 2022 will be consumed with both parties focused on winning the midterms, a recipe unlikely to yield much legislative success. Even so, much of the oxygen on Capitol Hill this week will be consumed by the House Republican Conference’s internal politicking as the party moves to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney as conference chair.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said there’s a “window of opportunity” to get legislation done in the next several weeks. But key decisions must be made, whether it’s on making it easier to sue police officers and charge them with crimes — a key sticking point in policing legislation — or on how to pay for an infrastructure package, an issue that has long divided the two parties. And Democratic leaders, along with Biden, must soon decide whether to attempt to go it-alone.
Both sides are expressing optimism — at least for now.
“We’re going to try to get some infrastructure done and have a robust package of building stuff for Americans, and at the end of that process, Americans will have an asset to show for their tax money,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who is involved in bipartisan discussions on an infrastructure package smaller than Biden’s $2 trillion-plus offering.
On infrastructure, Blumenthal said, “My own personal preference is to go big.” He understands the President wants to cut a bipartisan deal, but he said, “As for Republicans, I’ll believe it when I see it.”
As the bipartisan talks take shape, partisan battle lines are also being drawn.
Senate Democrats are gearing up for a partisan standoff over a sweeping voting and election overhaul bill that they have made a signature priority, but that has exposed some internal divides within the party and won’t win the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.
The Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday will vote to send the legislation to the full chamber, a move that will prompt a heated back-and-forth over the role of the federal government in American elections and efforts by states to restrict access to voting.
But chief among the President’s priorities on Capitol Hill is a major infrastructure package. The White House is now engaged in an all-out bipartisan push on infrastructure, an effort that includes intense discussions with top committee Republicans including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Wicker.
The talks are expected to intensify this week as lawmakers return from recess and Capito is scheduled to visit the President once again, along with GOP Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Wicker. The focus is on finding out whether Republicans and Democrats could cut a more modest deal on infrastructure and then come back later using a special budget tool known as reconciliation to pass some of Biden’s more ambitious reforms like paid family leave and extending the expanded child tax credit.
The obstacles to passing even a scaled back infrastructure bill include disagreement over how big the package should be. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview with Kentucky Education Television (KET), a PBS affiliate, that most Republicans believe the price tag for that would be around $600-800 billion, which is lower than Biden’s proposal but still a higher range than the $600 billion Republicans have proposed so far. Senate Democrats have argued that even a bare-minimum package would need to be far more than that.
In the days ahead, the scope and price tag will take center stage in the negotiations. But bigger differences about how to cover the cost of an infrastructure bill present additional landmines for bipartisan talks.
Republicans remain opposed to rolling back portions of their 2017 tax cut while Biden has spent the weeks since his joint address to Congress making the case for raising taxes on corporations and wealthier Americans.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told CBS News on Sunday that she was “pleasantly surprised” by the support for a big infrastructure investment that she’s heard from CEOs.
“And the reality is, they knew increased corporate taxes were coming, and I have been very pleased by how many CEOs have come out to support the President’s plan. So, there will be room for compromise, for sure,” she said.
Groups of bipartisan senators are also looking for ways to find consensus. And in a signal that Democratic leaders want to give bipartisan talks some breathing room, an aide familiar with the talks tells CNN that the Senate Budget Committee will punt passing a budget, the first step in a partisan reconciliation process, until at least June.
Capito has expressed optimism about getting a deal, despite the many potential holdups. “I do think we have some real
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