Biden and Senators Close In on Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal

Lawmakers were set to take a tentative framework to the White House on Thursday. Administration officials signaled the president was prepared to support it, pending final details.

WASHINGTON — White House negotiators and a group of senators reached a tentative agreement Wednesday evening on the contours of what would be a bipartisan infrastructure agreement, with lawmakers set to brief President Biden on Thursday as details were filled in.

The framework is expected to increase federal spending by nearly $600 billion to invest in roads, broadband internet, electric utilities and other federal infrastructure projects. It is expected to be paid for with a suite of revenue increases that do not violate either Mr. Biden’s pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class or Republicans’ red line of not reversing business tax cuts passed under President Donald J. Trump in 2017, though the details of the revenue sources have not yet been finalized.

Those revenue increases, which have been a major sticking point in negotiations, are expected to include heightened enforcement efforts by the Internal Revenue Service to reduce tax evasion by corporations and high earners, which many economists say could yield a significant increase in tax collections over time. They most likely will not include any increases in the tax rates corporations pay, as Mr. Biden had proposed, or so-called user fees, as Republicans had proposed.

“There’s a framework of agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure package,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told reporters as she left negotiations in the Capitol. “There’s still details to be worked out.”

“We also have to brief our respective caucuses,” she added. “But I’m optimistic that we’ve had a breakthrough.”

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a statement on Wednesday evening that “White House senior staff had two productive meetings today with the bipartisan group of senators who have been negotiating about infrastructure.”

“The group made progress toward an outline of a potential agreement,” she added, “and the president has invited the group to come to the White House tomorrow to discuss this in person.”

White House officials told Senate negotiators on Wednesday that Mr. Biden was prepared to support the framework once it was finalized with details, according to a source familiar with the discussions. A White House spokesman declined to comment beyond Ms. Psaki’s statement.

Sealing a bipartisan deal would put Mr. Biden firmly on the path to a piecemeal approach to passing his $4 trillion economic agenda, with a first step focused on a large-scale investment in the nation’s aging public works system. Senators refused to disclose details, but a framework previously endorsed by the five Republicans and five Democrats would provide for $579 billion in new spending as part of an overall $1.2 trillion package distributed over eight years.

But it would leave large swaths of the president’s economic proposals — including much of his spending to combat climate change, along with investments in child care, education and other types of what administration officials call “human infrastructure” — for a potential future bill that Democrats would try to pass through Congress without any Republican votes using a procedural mechanism known as reconciliation.

Progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate, along with liberal activists, have complained publicly in recent weeks that Mr. Biden’s negotiations with Republicans toward a bipartisan deal risked stranding much of the agenda that he campaigned on, including efforts to increase worker pay and speed the transition to a low-carbon future.

Moderate Democrats, including crucial swing votes for Mr. Biden like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have pushed the president to continue bipartisan talks. So have business groups, who have told Republican lawmakers privately that their best chance of blocking Democrats from raising tax rates on businesses and high earners is to cut a deal with Mr. Biden on an infrastructure bill that raised revenues in another way.

Mr. Biden dispatched aides to Capitol Hill repeatedly in recent days to meet with the centrist group of senators and hammer out disagreements over their initial framework, which was never formally made public without White House approval.

“I would call this a much sturdier framework,” said Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. He added, “We wouldn’t be going to the White House” if lawmakers did not believe the outline had a broad base of support.

Three of Mr. Biden’s aides — Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council; Steve Ricchetti, a top adviser to the president; and Louisa Terrell, the director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs — met with the bipartisan group twice on Wednesday before joining a meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California later in the evening.

That meeting was intended to focus not only on the bipartisan talks, but plans to push some, if not all, of Mr. Biden’s agenda through both chambers using the fast-track budget reconciliation process that would allow Democrats to bypass Republican opposition. It lasted past 9 p.m.

“We’re very excited about the prospect of a bipartisan agreement,” Ms. Pelosi said.

The two leaders said after the meeting that they hoped to move forward with both bipartisan infrastructure legislation and the reconciliation process in July.

“We’ll let them announce it first — let’s see it,” Mr. Schumer said of the bipartisan agreement. “But we support the concepts we’ve heard about.”

Democratic leaders in Congress are preparing to move a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar bill through the reconciliation process to approve spending on physical infrastructure, education, emissions reduction, child care, paid leave, antipoverty efforts and more. Some liberal lawmakers have pushed for assurances that Democrats have the votes for such a package — which could cost as much as $6 trillion over the course of a decade — before agreeing to back a scaled-down bipartisan deal.

“There cannot be one without the other,” Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said in an interview on Tuesday, before an agreement was announced. “And there has to be some specificity — it’s not going to be good enough to say, well, we support reconciliation, what’s in it?”

Some business leaders hailed the developments on Wednesday as a sign that Mr. Biden was now firmly on the path to a bipartisan agreement — and immediately began pressuring liberal Democrats with larger spending ambitions to support the deal.

“We are the cusp of a bipartisan agreement to invest more than $1 trillion in infrastructure and some in Congress are suggesting torpedoing that deal unless they get an additional $5 trillion in spending on unrelated items,” said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Members of Congress should of course advocate for their priorities, but don’t hold broadband for underserved communities, safe drinking water for America’s cities and a modernized transportation system for our nation hostage in the process,” Mr. Bradley said. “These are the kind of tactics that have created the mess we are in today and they must be rejected.”

“We’re very excited about the prospect of a bipartisan agreement,”  Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Sanders said he had asked Democrats on the panel to outline their priorities for the reconciliation package as he aims to pass a budget blueprint to start the process by July.

“I think the priorities that the president has established, that we have established, are solid,” Mr. Sanders said in an interview as he described his strategy. “But, you know, we’re going to have to make sure that we end up with numbers that 50 members can agree on.”

He added that his intention was to pay for new initiatives — like child care subsidies and health care expansion — through “progressive taxation,” including raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. But he did not extend that to one-off spending like road or bridge repairs or improving water systems, saying, “It is not necessary to pay for, in my view, one-time capital improvements in the infrastructure.”

In an early indication of what Mr. Sanders called an effort to “soothe the edges,” he said he was open to relaxing a $10,000 cap on how much taxpayers can deduct in state and local taxes.

Several Democrats, particularly lawmakers representing New York and California, have warned that they might not support any changes to the tax code that do not address that provision. A draft budget document circulated by staff on Capitol Hill and obtained by The New York Times appeared to include funds for a partial repeal of the state and local tax deduction, which could mean eliminating the cap for all but the highest earners, or raising the level of the cap. There were few details about how those funds would be distributed, and lawmakers and aides cautioned that the plan was in flux.

“I have a problem with extremely wealthy people being able to get the complete deduction,” Mr. Sanders said. “I think that’s an issue we’ll have to work on.”

Cecilia Kang and Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.