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Update On Infrastructure Bill Negotiations

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back in Washington, D.C., negotiations over an infrastructure bill have taken several twists and turns. The week started with President Biden ending talks with West Virginia Republican Shelley Moore Capito after the two sides couldn't find enough common ground. Top Democrats decided it was time to begin preparations to move forward without the help of any Republicans. But then a bipartisan group of 10 senators announced late Thursday that they came up with their own idea for how the country should invest in infrastructure. There's a lot to follow. And NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been covering it for us, and she is with us now.

Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: So let's start with the bipartisan framework. Who's working on this and what exactly did they agree to?

SNELL: There were five Democrats and five Republicans who kind of cobbled themselves together over the past week. You know, they haven't actually released the text of their agreement. We do know the broad outlines, though. It includes $1.2 trillion in spending over eight years with about $576 billion in new money. We also know that they plan to do it without raising taxes, but that's really all they've shared. So it's very vague on some really critical details like - you know, how will they pay for this?

MARTIN: Well, how big is the gap between this plan and what the White House has proposed? Recognizing, like, what you just said, that they're still vague on some of the details but, still, like, how - what's the difference there?

SNELL: Well, the last White House offer was $1.7 trillion, but it did include tax increases on people earning over $400,000 and a new minimum tax on corporations, both of which have fairly strong support among Democrats but no support among Republicans. The White House wasn't super impressed with this bipartisan offer, though. Press officer said the administration still has a lot of questions, not just about the policy but about the details of how the spending will be offset.

MARTIN: Kelsey, how influential is this bipartisan group?

SNELL: Well, in a 50/50 Senate, where Democrats have the majority, every Democrat is hugely influential because, well, they can stop a bill from proceeding even under special rules that can help avoid a filibuster. All that being said, this group organized themselves when it looked like Biden and Capito were going to fail, but they weren't negotiating with the background or the instruction of party leaders, which is generally pretty important when writing, you know, a big bill like this. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer acknowledged the group earlier in the week before they announced their agreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHUCK SCHUMER: That's good, but that's not going to be the only answer. We all know as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things that the country needs in a totally bipartisan way.

SNELL: So that's not really an endorsement of their work. I mean, he's not ruling it out, but he's not exactly saying that this is the end-all, be-all.

MARTIN: Does that mean that a significant number of Democrats - I'm not really sure how many - think that there is no hope for a bipartisan bill?

SNELL: Well, Schumer didn't go that far, but there are a good number of Democrats that I spoke to who said they really are ready to move on from these talks. In some ways, Schumer needs to let the negotiators run their course, though. If they fail, if all of these talks fail, he can say that he tried his best and then he can try to blame Republicans for any failures. This is, after all, not just a policy negotiation; this is a political process. The balance of power in the House and the Senate are both very much up in the air next year. And both sides are making bets about how this bill will play into those elections.

MARTIN: You know, Kelsey, I want to keep in mind what you've been telling us all along, which is that people forget how long negotiations on big proposals actually can take.

SNELL: Right.

MARTIN: So - but having said that, what comes next? How quickly could we see Democrats go it alone?

SNELL: Well, you know, that could happen pretty soon. They want to get a bill on the floor in July, and July is coming up really fast. If Democrats decide to go it alone, they have a lot of negotiating to do amongst themselves. They don't have unanimous support at this moment to move a bill. So they will have to move on and start talking about what they can do, what they can agree on and what could actually get passed.

MARTIN: That is NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Kelsey, thank you so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEON BRIDGES' "BAD BAD NEWS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.