Senate Democrats are weighing spending as much as $6 trillion on their own infrastructure package if the chamber’s bipartisan talks fail, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has repeatedly insisted that infrastructure talks are currently on two tracks: The first track is bipartisan, while the second track will include priorities that have no chance of getting GOP support. He huddled on Wednesday afternoon with Democratic members of the Budget Committee to discuss strategy, with no firm decision reached.
Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been pushing for an aggressive approach to the infrastructure talks. Earlier this week, Sanders said he opposed the emerging bipartisan agreement.
“The bipartisan talks could impact us, but we’re going to keep going,” Sanders said Wednesday.
According to a tentative plan, half of the proposed Democrats-only alternative would be paid for. About $2.5 trillion would go through the Finance Committee, $185 billion through the Energy Committee and almost $500 billion through the Environment and Public Works Committee, one source said, while emphasizing that the discussions are fluid.
A spokesperson for the Budget committee declined to comment.
The details of the bigger plan come as a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), released details this week of an infrastructure plan that costs about $973 billion over five years or $1.2 trillion over eight. The plan would include $579 billion in new spending, and pay-fors include repurposing unused Covid relief funds, imposing a surcharge on electric vehicles, and expanding use of state and local funds for coronavirus relief.
So far, a bipartisan group of 21 senators have signed on and the plan’s details remain in flux. And Democrats’ separate considerations of an infrastructure bill as big as $6 trillion — more than President Joe Biden’s initial $4 trillion-plus plan — don’t necessarily suggest they’re preparing for those talks to run aground. The bigger framework includes provisions that could be added to a separate infrastructure bill passed along party lines even if the bipartisan talks pay off.
The White House met with a group of Democratic negotiators on Wednesday. But it’s not clear what the next steps are just yet. Moderate Democrats will meet with Schumer midday to discuss their bipartisan proposal, the budget and reconciliation, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is pushing for a bipartisan agreement and is not entirely committed to a second reconciliation package with only Democratic priorities, which is a key demand by progressives whose votes will be needed for any bipartisan deal. Liberal lawmakers for weeks have been pushing for the White House to go it alone.
Schumer has insisted that the Senate will take up infrastructure in July. He also wants the Senate to consider a budget resolution that would unlock the ability to pass a party-line bill and evade a filibuster.