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Politics & Government

Here's Where Things Stand With Biden's Infrastructure Bill

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Exactly how gridlocked is the United States Congress? President Biden had set Memorial Day as a deadline for agreement on an infrastructure bill, but the president's suggestion has not yet produced a deal.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow is here. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And happy holiday to you. Will you remind us, what is the fundamental problem here when the president and his party - president has - president's party has the White House and Congress?

DETROW: It's a dynamic we've talked about over and over and over. And it's the fact that Democrats hold control of the Senate with just 50 votes due to the tiebreaking vote that the vice president can cast. But in order to pass really anything substantive, they need 60 votes. They need 10 Republicans to be on board. And given the trench partisan warfare we have seen for years now in Washington, it just does not seem likely in many high-profile areas.

INSKEEP: So it's not really majority rule. It's supermajority rule. How has that shaped the debate over infrastructure?

DETROW: Well, in order to pass a broad bill on the scope that the vice - that President Biden wants to see passed, he needs to convince Republicans to get on board. Biden also has political reasons for trying to pass a bipartisan bill. He wants to cool partisan tensions in the country to look like he's getting things done. He is trying very hard to do this.

Shelley Moore Capito, the lead negotiator for this group of Senate Republicans, is - says these talks are earnest. They are making progress, even though they're very far apart. Capito says she and Biden are going to meet again this week to try to get something done.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")

SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: He told me on the phone just day before yesterday, let's get this done. And I think that means that he has - his heart is in this. We have had some back-and-forth with the staff, who've sort of pulled back a little bit. But I think we're smoothing out those edges.

DETROW: President Biden has said that he's going to give this a try for a little bit further. But you can hear the White House starting to say this is on the clock. Biden, Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, and others are saying they really see about a week left for these talks before they maybe reverse course and go down the partisan route again.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm trying to figure out just how broken the overall system is. We know that the president would rather the system work in a bipartisan way. That's what he was used to in the Senate and that he's spoken for when campaigning and at other times. We had Senator Chris Coons of Delaware on the program last week. He's considered a close ally of the president. I don't want to say he speaks for the president, but he certainly has that mood of wanting bipartisanship if possible. And in fact, he emphasized that some other things are passing, Scott. Let's listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

CHRIS COONS: I'll remind you, last month we actually passed a $35 billion water and wastewater infrastructure bill. Literally today, the public works committee is marking up an authorizing bill that I think will go through on a bipartisan basis. And this week, we are debating and I think we'll finally pass a $120 billion bill for making our country more competitive with manufacturing and innovation. There is progress on other fronts.

INSKEEP: That's Chris Coons last week. So Scott, is it true that lawmakers are inclined to cooperate when the bill at issue is not the partisan headline item?

DETROW: Well, I think that the fate of that last bill that he was talking about is kind of a counteroffer here. It's a broad measure that does have a lot of bipartisan support to invest in research, technology, part of trying to counter China. It got tied up. The Senate left last week without passing that bill because it became suddenly very partisan, not necessarily because of that bill in question but because, that day, the Senate was also holding a vote on whether or not to create an independent commission, bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly attack on the Capitol on January 6. That measure failed. Republican senators blocked it. And a lot of the more progressive wing of Coons' caucus is saying, if we can't get bipartisan agreement on something like that, how can we get it on anything substantive?

INSKEEP: NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.