(L-R) U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) speak to reporters as they arrive at the U.S. Capitol after a meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House on June 24, 2021. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal Reached, Sinema Comes Out Against $3.5 Trillion Package

While advocacy groups emphasize the bipartisan plan is far from sufficient, progressive lawmakers are threatening to block it without a robust reconciliation package.

Ahead of an imminent vote in the Senate on moving forward with a bipartisan infrastructure plan, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on Wednesday announced her opposition to a proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation package--potentially jeopardizing both efforts.

"Kyrsten Sinema could single-handedly prevent any infrastructure investment."
--Matt Fuller, The Daily Beast

As The Daily Beast's Matt Fuller put it: "If she stands by this, she'll kill the bipartisan deal too."

"House Democrats aren't going to go along with a bipartisan deal that comes at the exclusion of the reconciliation bill," Fuller tweeted. "So Kyrsten Sinema could single-handedly prevent any infrastructure investment."

In a statement about the reconciliation proposal, Sinema (D-Ariz.) said she has told Senate leadership and President Joe Biden that "while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion--and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration."

Sinema's potentially fatal blow to all efforts to pass federal legislation on physical and human infrastructure--given progressive lawmakers' threats to condition their support for a bipartisan bill on simultaneously advancing a bold reconciliation package--came the same day the White House and a group of lawmakers, including the Arizona Democrat, announced an agreement on the details of the bipartisan measure.

A White House fact sheet says that the deal, which includes $550 billion in new federal investment, features spending on public transit, passenger rail, road and bridge improvements, water systems, high-speed internet, clean energy, and electric vehicle infrastructure.

"It's clear that as it stands this plan's approach to the multiple crises we face is backwards," said Mitch Jones, policy director at the progressive advocacy organization Food & Water Watch. "It underfunds our water systems and overfunds the industries killing our planet."

According to Jones:

The level of water funding laid out in this deal is wholly inadequate compared to the monumental challenges we face in providing clean drinking water to all and building climate-resilient infrastructure. The framework appears to limit privatization incentives to transportation projects, and as more details emerge, it is imperative that we hold the line on preventing any wasteful, expensive privatization schemes from being included in this package.

At the same time, this deal proposes spending billions of dollars on expensive and totally ineffective carbon capture technologies and related infrastructure. This is nothing more than a new set of fossil fuel subsidies that already cost taxpayers $15 billion a year. This is a gift to the fossil fuel polluters that have cynically seized on promoting carbon capture as a climate solution, when it is nothing more than a means of prolonging the dirty energy era.

"As the details of this deal are fleshed out," Jones added, "we implore lawmakers to do more to provide robust funding for our urgent water needs, and to strike out wasteful fossil fuel subsidies."

The bipartisan group behind the deal was led by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Sinema, who met with Biden at the White House on Tuesday to update him on the deal's progress.

Politico reports that after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) confirmed that a procedural vote for the bipartisan deal could occur as soon as Wednesday night, Portman told reporters that "as of late last night, and really early this morning, we now have an agreement on the major issues" and "we are prepared to move forward."

On Wednesday evening, every member of the Senate Democratic Caucus along with 17 Republicans voted in favor taking up the bipartisan plan, which Biden celebrated as "the most significant long-term investment in our infrastructure and competitiveness in nearly a century" and for which the total price tag is expected to top $1 trillion.

Responding to developments ahead of the vote, Rahna Epting, executive director of the group MoveOn, said that "the bipartisan deal must only be the start. And let's be clear, it is not even remotely sufficient in and of itself. It now must be paired with a robust reconciliation package that meets the size and scope of the challenges that too many Americans face."

"Now that this deal has been made," Epting continued, "Democrats cannot wait any longer, or allow any additional Republican obstruction, and must move forward with urgency on a bill that will invest in good paying union jobs, clean energy jobs, the care infrastructure that so many people depend on, and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, [Temporary Protected Status] holders, and essential workers like farmworkers."

"And we must invest in working families by making sure the ultra-wealthy and tax-dodging corporations pay their fair share," she added. "Let's be clear, one bill cannot pass without the other. This is a package deal. And a deal that the American people can not afford to wait any longer for."

People's Action campaigns director Sondra Youdelman similarly called out Republicans and called for Democrats to focus on the reconciliation package.

"Thanks to Republicans, this infrastructure bill is coming too little and too late," Youdelman said of the bipartisan deal. "While we urge the Senate to pass it swiftly, we also call on Democrats to immediately pivot to the broader budget resolution, finish what the infrastructure bill started, and get our communities urgently needed investments in relief and recovery."

"Democrats have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address climate change head-on, create good family-sustaining jobs, expand critical public healthcare programs, invest in public and affordable housing, and support families with kids," she said. "Millions of struggling working-class people are still hurting. Legislators can't leave until they pass this budget resolution before the August recess. They either bring home a win for their community, or stay working."

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly responded to Sinema's statement on the $3.5 trillion proposal by calling her "very courageous," progressive lawmakers echoed advocacy groups' demands for advancing the reconciliation package--which, as Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) explained last week, is necessary.

"The 50 Democrats in the U.S. Senate, plus the vice president, will have to pass this most consequential piece of legislation alone," Sanders wrote for The Guardian, noting GOP opposition to the proposal. "And that's what we will do. The future of working families is at stake. The future of our democracy is at stake. The future of our planet is at stake."

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted Wednesday that "without a reconciliation package that meets this moment, I'm a no on this bipartisan deal."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) highlighted flooding in both her district and Arizona, tweeting that "meanwhile in MI-13, folks are suffering repeated, devastating floods caused, in part, by failing infrastructure. This is nothing more than pointless grandstanding that will perpetuate suffering and the idea that we are just here for ourselves, not #ForThePeople."

Given Sinema's opposition to abolishing the filibuster--which could be killed with the support of all Democrats and currently allows Republicans to block most legislation in the evenly divided Senate--progressives have labeled her a key impediment to passing the For a People Act, a sweeping pro-democracy package, amid GOP attacks on voting rights at the state level.

Tlaib said Wednesday that it is "time for the White House to play hardball. We didn't elect Sinema as president and we won't let her obstruction put a Republican in the Oval Office in 2024. It's the reconciliation bill or GOP controlling every level of government again, period."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also responded on Twitter, directing her message at Sinema: "Good luck tanking your own party's investment on child care, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you'll survive a three-vote House margin--especially after choosing to exclude members of color from negotiations and calling that a 'bipartisan accomplishment.'"

As Common Dreams reported earlier this month, Ocasio-Cortez has said that if Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)--another centrist opposed to various progressive priorities--"and the rest of the Senate approve the 'reconciliation bill' then we will approve their bipartisan bill. But if they try to strip immigration reform, child care, climate action, etc., then we're at an impasse."

The New York Democrat also recently told Democracy Now! that progressive lawmakers are "united" in opposing "bipartisan legislation without a reconciliation bill"--a sentiment that was repeated Wednesday by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Jayapal said that votes of caucus members "are not guaranteed on any bipartisan package until we examine the details, and until the reconciliation bill is agreed to and passed with our priorities sufficiently funded."

"Our caucus," she said, "will continue to demand that Congress fulfill the mandate we were elected on: to deliver necessary, urgent, and transformational change for working families."

This post has been updated with details about the Senate's Wednesday night vote.

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