Republican Sen. John Cornyn said he and Alex Padilla, a Democrat, are bargaining with the White House on their proposal to give states flexibility to use some unspent pandemic relief funds on infrastructure projects, which would free up billions of federal dollars.
Cornyn and Padilla are making their proposal as an amendment to the roughly $550 billion infrastructure package backed by President Joe Biden that is heading toward a Senate vote in the next few days.
“We’re making some progress,” Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator, said of his talks with the White House. Padilla, who represents California, said they are “almost there” on getting enough support to add their amendment to the infrastructure legislation, which would release money for states to spend on projects in addition to the $550 billion.
A White House official said the administration was in discussion and working to ensure the proposed amendment didn’t undermine the effort against the coronavirus.
Cornyn said their latest offer is to give states flexibility on spending 25% of any funds they were allocated from two major COVID-19 relief bills. They could spend another 25% of the money with a waiver from the Biden administration.
Cornyn said there are now seven Democratic co-sponsors of the amendment, though there is no deal yet. An amendment would need 60 votes to be added to the legislation.
“I think all the senators are looking at what this means, they’re talking to their governors and their mayors and saying ‘Wow, this sounds pretty amazing to me,’” he added.
He said he hopes to reach an agreement to add the amendment to the broader bill on Wednesday night.
The current legislation would repurpose $210 billion in COVID relief, including ending some tax breaks that weren’t widely used.
The Senate has been plowing through proposed amendments, but the vast bipartisan infrastructure bill hasn’t significantly changed and those that have been adopted had overwhelming support in the 50-50 chamber.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democratic leader, said in a interview with Bloomberg TV’s David Westin that passage of the infrastructure legislation could come “as soon as this weekend, as late as Monday.”
The Senate’s second-ranking Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, told reporters that GOP senators would soon decide how much longer to insist the debate continue. Some Republicans votes will be needed to reach the 60 needed to limit debate and move toward final passage.
The bill was negotiated over many weeks of talks between the White House and a bipartisan group of senators led by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat. It includes about $110 billion in new spending for roads and bridges, $73 billion for electric grid upgrades, $66 billion for rail and Amtrak, and $65 billion for broadband expansion. It also provides $55 billion for clean drinking water and $39 billion for transit.
In one possible amendment of note, a bipartisan group of senators has drafted a proposal that would revise a requirement in the bill for cryptocurrency businesses, including miners and software developers, to report data to the Internal Revenue Service. The cryptocurrency industry has said this measure is overly broad and would require some companies to report data to which they don’t have access.
Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Republican Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, worked on the more targeted proposal that they say factors in the nuances of the emerging technology. Like all other amendments proposed to the bill, a 60-vote super-majority would be required for it to succeed.
Once the Senate completes work on the infrastructure bill, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said the chamber would immediately turn to a budget resolution setting up a fast-track procedure known as reconciliation that could allow Democrats to pass the bulk of Biden’s economic agenda without facing a filibuster by Republicans.
A planned $3.5 trillion package would address policy areas including climate change, immigration, taxes, health care and child care, and it faces significant hurdles in both the Senate and House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said her chamber wouldn’t take up the infrastructure legislation until the budget package is settled.
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