“Some of us are focused on trying to put some numbers together,” one Republican senator who spoke on the condition of anonymity told CNN. “We’ve met a couple of times.
He estimated it was about 10 members, but said he expected they would share it with more members as they made progress.
“It’s smaller than the 20, although the 20 will probably be in on it before it’s done,” Tester said.
The recent surge in bipartisan activity may just be a recognition of the political reality.
Already, Democrats in the House and Senate are divided over key issues like whether to do away with the $10,000 deduction on state and local taxes — an issue sometimes referred to as SALT — which affects many Americans living in states with higher local taxes. And while some Democrats are committed to dealing with prescription drug pricing through an infrastructure bill, others argue the issue should be its own package. Wrestling with those divisions will prove challenging over the next several months.
That’s why some Republicans argue the White House has seemed more seriously engaged in bipartisanship this time around rather than back in January and February with the Covid relief bill.
“I think there is a sincere effort on their part to see how big a package we would be willing to put together in a bipartisan way,” one Republican senator who is engaged in talks with the White House told CNN on the condition of background to freely discuss their conversations. “Generally, if I was betting, the leader believes that they would only go the bipartisan way if they decide they are going to have a really hard time holding all 50 votes on the package they put together, and that is probably realistic to think that.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland who’s chair of a transportation subcommittee, said Tuesday on CNN that he was confident there could be strong bipartisan support for a transportation infrastructure bill out of his committee, but he warned that the decision of whether to bring it to the floor as a standalone package will ultimately be made by leadership and the President.
“I don’t know how these all get married,” Cardin said. “At the end of the day, that decision has not yet been made, so I don’t know whether it will be taken off the floor separately from the rest, but I do know we can make progress on a bipartisan basis to deal with infrastructure.”
Schumer has also signaled in recent days that he wants to test bipartisanship, committing to bringing a bipartisan infrastructure water bill to the floor this week.
“This water infrastructure bill is a core component of the Republican infrastructure proposal released last week. So I hope this legislation will serve as a starting point for our two parties to collaborate on infrastructure when and where we can,” Schumer said on the floor this week.
While progressives have signaled an interest in passing the legislation in one mega bill, moderates have argued they’d be more comfortable breaking the package in two, with the first piece focused more on physical infrastructure, in an effort to attract Republican support.
“My preference is to do this in a bipartisan way,” Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona, told reporters. “What would be enough for me would be working together to come to a consensus with Republicans to decide what should be in the bill, because these are really important projects. … When I think of infrastructure, I think of physical things.”
“If we can find a core, physical infrastructure package that we have done many, many years in the past, and it is robust and it’s paid for and we can do it bipartisan, yeah. … I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to be part of the solution and take home to our individual states, ‘Look, this is where we believe the greatest needs are,’ ” Capito said. “A win is a win.”
Behind the scenes, members and aides say Schumer has encouraged Democrats to continue talks with their Republican counterparts on infrastructure, with one Democratic aide telling CNN it came up as recently as at last week’s caucus lunch. But progressives warn that Democrats shouldn’t move to the middle just for the sake of making the bill bipartisan, and many warn that the talks cannot go on forever.
“I believe in bipartisanship, but I believe most importantly in getting the job done and doing what the American people need,” said Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats. “If Republicans are serious about addressing the major crises facing this country, that’s great. Let’s work with them. If they aren’t, we have to go forward alone.”