Biden eyes quick bill movement after bipartisan huddle

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, Kelsey Brugger and Timothy Cama, E&E News reporters • Posted: Sunday, March 7, 2021

President Biden last week sat down with lawmakers from both parties to hash out a cornerstone of his campaign promise: the infrastructure piece of Build Back Better.

In the Oval Office — flanked by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Vice President Kamala Harris, and members of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee — the president told reporters beforehand the group would explore “what we’re going to do across the board to lead the world in infrastructure.”

“That not only creates jobs but makes us a hell of a lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure in the world,” he said.

Lawmakers in the room comprised Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who chairs the committee; Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who is the ranking member; Vice Chairwoman Sharice Davids (D-Kan.); Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), John Katko (R-N.Y.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.); and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

The meeting came as lawmakers look to move infrastructure and climate legislation after Congress finishes up with the COVID-19 relief package being considered in the Senate this week.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) has said he will move a bipartisan surface transportation bill out of his committee by the end of May, with an emphasis on climate resilience and electric vehicle deployment.

DeFazio, Carper’s House counterpart, said after the meeting yesterday that Biden sees infrastructure as a component of economic recovery after the pandemic.

“He wants to move as quickly as possible,” DeFazio told reporters. “He wants it to be very big, and he feels that this is the key to the recovery package.”

But Graves sought to emphasize after the event his fears that Democrats would shut out the GOP from talks and load infrastructure legislation up with climate policy.

“Republicans are eager to work on bipartisan solutions, but it will take a willingness to compromise and a good faith effort to consider Republican priorities,” Graves said in a statement.

“Republicans won’t support another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill,” he added, referring to the “Moving Forward Act,” which House Democrats passed mostly along party lines last year with significant environmental and climate provisions.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said infrastructure spending is a “top priority” for Biden. “He believes we have to rebuild our crumbling roads and bridges, improve our communities, and create good union jobs for Americans.”

Psaki tweeted a Reuters story saying the White House has hired Elisabeth Reynolds, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher, and Samantha Silverberg, a Boston-area transportation official.

“My inner aspiring policy nerd is very excited about working with this incredible group of women leading the [National Economic Council] who will play a central role in building the economy back better,” Psaki wrote.

Yesterday’s huddle followed a similar meeting Biden convened last month with Carper and bipartisan leaders on EPW, which the president presented as the launch of a series of conversions with Congress aimed at passing a bill.

“I really, honest to God, never have thought of infrastructure as being a partisan issue,” Biden said before that confab (E&E Daily, Feb. 12).

The path forward, however, remains unclear, with some Democrats and advocates pushing to move infrastructure and economic recovery policy through another round of budget reconciliation, the process that allows certain legislation to bypass the Senate filibuster.

DeFazio told CNBC yesterday that he wants to move two bills — a bipartisan package and a separate reconciliation bill that includes tax provisions and pay-fors.

Asked yesterday by the White House pool reporter whether pay-fors came up in the meeting with Biden, DeFazio simply said, “We talked about it.”