Senior White House officials are engaging in “informal discussions” with external experts and GOP members on creating a second bipartisan package as an offshoot from a Democratic-only reconciliation bill that addresses “human infrastructure,” one of President Biden’s chief legislative priorities.
Gene Sperling and Neera Tanden, senior advisers to the president, and other economic aides are conducting the talks, individuals involved told the Washington Examiner. Some of the conversations have happened in virtual briefings, while some individuals said the White House contacted them directly.
Biden recently announced that Democrats and Republicans had negotiated a deal on a limited infrastructure package. It allocates $1.2 trillion over eight years for transportation and technology projects such as roads, bridges, airports, electric utilities, and broadband, a miniature version of the original $6 trillion mammoth plan Biden first proposed.
To recoup the ground lost in the scaled-down package, the Democrats are also advancing a separate social-spending-centric bill providing funds for elder and child care, climate change, education, etc. through the reconciliation process, by which only a simple Democratic majority of 50 votes is needed to pass it rather than 60.
The Democratic efforts followed the cues of Biden, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, and House majority leader Nancy Pelosi, who insisted on a second measure. Biden said at recent press conference that he would refuse to sign the first infrastructure bill without a supplementary “human infrastructure” bill accompanying it.
The new joint-party offspring package revealed Monday may focus on child and family incentives, including provisions for paid parental leave; a long-term extension of the expanded, fully refundable child tax credit introduced in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan; and a broadening of the scope for states to allocate direct aid apportioned through the American Rescue Plan.
“There’s this recognition that family policy is this wedge issue,” one policy expert with knowledge of the recent White House-GOP meetings told the Washington Examiner. “And if the Republicans let Democrats walk away with it, it’s a problem.”
“I think if Republicans acted as a caucus, if Republicans were organized, they could push a genuine bipartisan negotiation on the family,” the policy expert added. “The open question is, do they get their act together and approach the White House with a common set of priorities? And so far, I haven’t seen them leaping at the opportunity to do that.”
Senior White House adviser Anita Dunn has reiterated that Biden’s two non-negotiable items in an infrastructure settlement are total “inaction” and hiking taxes on families earning less than $400,000 a year. Biden has indicated that he is open to all legislative avenues to maximize the chances of enacting the bulk of the proposals in the American Jobs and Families plans he spearheaded.
“The president had two red lines in this entire process that we have stated over and over again. The first and most important was inaction, which was not an option for him,” Dunn said at a Friday function. “And the second red line has consistently been, as you know, that he is not going to agree to tax increases for people who make less than $400,000 a year.”
“We’re at the beginning of a reconciliation process. You have the House and the Senate that both have their own processes,” she stated. “It’s a congressional process and a negotiation, so we understand that there will be a lot of back and forth between now and then.”