What to Know in Washington: Senators Near Infrastructure Deal

The bipartisan group of senators trying come up with an infrastructure compromise say they are moving closer to agreement on a proposal but are still wrangling with how to pay for their plan in the face of White House opposition to indexing the gasoline tax to inflation.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the leaders of the group, said yesterday the senators are requesting a meeting with White House officials today and plan to draw up a “fleshed out” framework for a proposal this week.

One of the sticking points continues to be coming up with a way to pay for their $579 billion plan. Two of the negotiators, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), said the idea of indexing the motor fuels tax to inflation is all but dead.

The administration has been pushing Biden’s plan to bolster funding for Internal Revenue Service enforcement to collect from tax cheats. The group has proposed limited new revenue from bolstering IRS enforcement but far short of the amount the White House estimates could be recouped in unpaid taxes. Portman said they also are looking at raising revenue from airwaves sales and fees from major polluters. Read more from Erik Wasson.

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), right, on Capitol Hill on June 16

Infrastructure Bank Back in Play: Senate Democrats and Republicans trying to turn Biden’s signature infrastructure plan into legislation are looking to a new bank to help pay for roads, bridges, and transit. The idea, endorsed in a framework last week from the group of about 20 senators, has been floated for decades as an alternative to raising the gasoline tax or other infrastructure funding mechanisms. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), who has been advocating for a $20 billion infrastructure bank, called it “a personal part of the package.”

Proponents have argued that a federal infrastructure bank would allow more private funding to pay for the nation’s transportation network. But demand for privately funded infrastructure in the U.S. has been limited beyond toll roads, and when there has been interest, some projects have been plagued by overoptimistic forecasts that burned investors. Critics also warn that politics could seep into the lending process. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

Old Highways Need More Funds: Substantial money will be needed to repair the “deteriorating” interstate highway system, a report suggests as lawmakers negotiate over hundreds of billions of dollars for infrastructure funding. More than double the current annual federal spending would be required to reconstruct and modernize the 65-year-old highway system as roads become more congested and bridges and pavement fall into poor condition, the nonprofit transportation research organization TRIP said in a report today, doubling down on its assessments from previous years. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

Happening on the Hill

Happening Today:

  • The House will consider 18 measures under expedited procedure that indicates broad, bipartisan support.
  • The Senate plans to vote on whether to advance Democrats’ sweeping voting-rights legislation to the Senate floor, but a lack of Republican support indicates the bill is unlikely to advance.
  • Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Biden Meets With Manchin and Sinema: Biden met yesterday with two moderate Democratic senators crucial to his massive infrastructure proposal as well as voting rights legislation, even as his party’s progressives complain that he’s giving away too much in pursuit of elusive compromise. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) had separate afternoon sessions with the president, according to a White House official. Biden and Manchin, the person said, discussed voting rights and how to advance a bill in the evenly divided Senate. They also talked about infrastructure. The meeting with Sinema also concerned infrastructure, the official added.

Manchin is the only Senate Democrat who hasn’t signed on to the Senate version of a sweeping overhaul of election laws that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will try to bring to the floor despite a lack of any Republican support. With the Senate split 50-50 between the two parties, 10 GOP votes would be needed to end a filibuster under Senate rules even with Manchin’s backing. Read more from John Harney and Steven T. Dennis.

Amazon Could Be Forced To Sell Logistics Business Under Bill: Amazon could be forced to sell its valuable logistics services division — the network of warehouses and delivery hubs around the country that power quick delivery of online orders — under antitrust legislation proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who represents Amazon’s hometown of Seattle. Jayapal has proposed a bill with bipartisan support that would prevent Amazon from luring sellers to use its logistics services in exchange for preferential treatment on its busy web store, according to a spokesman for the lawmaker. The bill will be considered tomorrow by the Judiciary Committee along with five other bipartisan antitrust reform bills. Read more from Rebecca Kern and Spencer Soper.

Restaurants Pitch Aid Boost as More Diners Return: The restaurant industry is seeking to convince Congress they need an extra helping of federal relief despite the perception that customers are dining out again as coronavirus restrictions fall and the economy rebounds. The National Restaurant Association and the Independent Restaurant Coalition are revving up a lobbying effort to get lawmakers to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund that was part of the pandemic relief package lawmakers passed earlier this year. A group of bipartisan lawmakers have introduced bills in the House and Senate to add $60 billion more to the fund, more than double the $28.6 billion initially allocated. Read more from Megan R. Wilson.

Leahy Wants Capitol Police Funding Talks With GOP: Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called on Republican senators to join talks for a security supplemental following the Jan. 6 insurrection. The Capitol Police will run out of funding sometime in August without action, Leahy wrote in a statement. The supplemental would provide resources for overtime, hazard pay, equipment, and training, Leahy says, Se Young Lee reports.

Billionaire Tax Info Leak Prompts Call for IRS Probe: The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee wants a government watchdog to review the procedures the IRS has in place to store and protect confidential taxpayer information. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), in a letter, asked the Government Accountability Office to identify weaknesses in storage of taxpayer information and what the agency could do to improve the security of such records. Read more from Kaustuv Basu.

Around the Administration

Today’s Agenda: Biden will meet at 1:45 p.m. with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and Homeland Security Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall to discuss FEMA’s preparation for extreme weather events.

Regulators Tell Biden Bank Capital Mitigates Risks: Wall Street regulators delivered a uniform message to Biden yesterday: the huge capital buffers that banks built up over the pandemic are protecting the financial system from looming threats. In a meeting at the White House, the heads of the Federal Reserve, Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies told Biden that the financial system is doing well, according to a statement released by the administration. Among topics discussed were how to continue the economic recovery and extend credit to underserved communities. Read more from Jesse Hamilton.

Navy Ships Close to Getting ICBM Interceptors: The Pentagon’s No. 2 official has ordered 11 missile interceptors transferred from research and development for possible deployment on Navy ships in the Pacific or European regions after a test in November indicated they could stop an intercontinental ballistic missile. In the test, the USS John Finn intercepted a mock ICBM intended to simulate one that could be launched at Hawaii by North Korea. The destroyer, operating near Hawaii, fired off one of the Standard Missile-3 model Block IIA interceptors built by Raytheon at the target launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Iran Says Nuclear Talks May Slip Into Raisi’s Rule: Iran raised the possibility that talks to rescue its nuclear deal with world powers could extend beyond August, when President Hassan Rouhani is set to be replaced by a hardline successor, urging the U.S. to take the “political decision” needed to finalize a deal. The sides ended their last round of negotiations to try to restore the landmark 2015 accord on Sunday — a day after Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric who’s generally hostile toward the West, emerged as the winner of June 18 elections. He’s due to take over from Rouhani in mid-August. Read more from Golnar Motevalli and Arsalan Shahla.

Kim’s Sister Says U.S. Has ‘Wrong’ Views on Talks With Pyongyang: Kim Jong Un’s sister said the U.S. has “wrong” views in thinking North Korea might be offering an opening to return to talks, in comments coming shortly after an envoy for Biden said the U.S. was ready for dialogue “anywhere, anytime” with Pyongyang. The official Korean Central News Agency released a statement from Kim Yo Jong today about two hours before Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, was due to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul to talk about reviving dormant disarmament negotiations with North Korea. Read more from Jeong-Ho Lee.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com