U.S. Senate Democrats plan to advance infrastructure bill to gauge bipartisan support

U.S. Senate Democrats plan to advance infrastructure bill to gauge bipartisan support

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate is expected to take its first step forward on President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package next week, while Senate Republicans are preparing a narrower proposal less than one-third the size.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that he intends to take up a $30 billion water resources bill as an initial test of Republican willingness to work with Democrats on Biden’s sweeping infrastructure proposal.

“The water infrastructure bill is a small but important part of that overall effort,” Schumer said in a floor speech, adding the measure had unanimous bipartisan support from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“It will authorize tens of billions of dollars to make sure American families, especially low-income families, have access to safe and clean drinking water,” he said.

Schumer announced the move amid growing bipartisan talks in the Senate and at the White House about how to advance infrastructure legislation that can create jobs and stimulate the economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito told reporters that Republicans were working on their own infrastructure proposal and said in a CNBC interview there could be bipartisan support for a package of $600 billion to $800 billion.

Eight members of a bipartisan group of House of Representatives lawmakers known as the “Problem Solvers Caucus” discussed infrastructure Wednesday with White House officials. Several lawmakers urged the White House to consider a more “manageable” and traditional infrastructure package, participant Republican Representative Dusty Johnson told Reuters.

The Biden package would not only repair America’s roads and bridges but seek to rechart the course of the U.S. economy by tackling climate change and boosting social programs such as eldercare.

Republicans say the plan is dominated by spending unrelated to traditional infrastructure, and they reject a proposal to finance the initiative by raising taxes on U.S. corporations.

Johnson said there is a “fair amount of skepticism” among Republicans that the Biden administration’s desire for bipartisanship on infrastructure is genuine – but added that the two White House officials at the meeting, chief of staff Ron Klain and presidential counselor Steve Ricchetti, seemed sincere. “We will be looking for … the next few steps they take to reinforce their message,” Johnson said.

Biden has started to meet bipartisan groups of lawmakers at the White House in an effort to win Republican support for his infrastructure plan. But Democrats have said they will move forward without Republicans through a legislative process called reconciliation if their opposition continues.

Republicans say they want to focus on roads, bridges, airports, ports, waterways and broadband access, and pay for the improvements with user fees such as road-related taxes and unspent COVID-19 relief funding.

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