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A group of centrist US senators raced to reach a final deal on the text of a $1tn bipartisan infrastructure package on Sunday, with funding for mass transit emerging as a key sticking point and tensions rising over Joe Biden’s sweeping economic agenda.
Rob Portman, a Republican senator from Ohio, and Mark Warner, a Democratic senator from Virginia, said in separate television interviews on Sunday that they remained confident an agreement could be reached this week to codify the cross-party agreement struck with Biden last month.
“We’re about 90 per cent of the way there,” Portman said in an interview with ABC.
“We’re going to legislate the language with colleagues and with staff, and I feel good about getting that done this week.”
Warner told Fox News Sunday: “I think you’re going to see a bill Monday”.
The $1tn plan would fund investments in roads, bridges, ports, airports, water facilities and broadband networks.
Portman said funding for mass transit projects was “one issue outstanding” on which Republicans were “not getting much response from the Democrats”.
Republicans, who disproportionately represent rural states and communities, want smaller levels of funding for public transport, whereas Democratic lawmakers, whose support is more concentrated in cities, want the agreement to include more funding for mass transit.
“My hope is that we’ll see progress on that yet today,” Portman added.
A first procedural vote to open debate on the $1tn bill failed last week as Republican lawmakers balked at some of the details of the proposals and the fact that no final text had yet been published. But the White House and advocates for the proposal in Congress pressed ahead with it, setting Monday as the deadline to proceed with a new vote.
Biden has heartily backed the deal as key to the US economy and a sign that he can spur bipartisan dealmaking in Washington — ramping up the political stakes of the negotiations.
If the deal fails, Democrats are expected to include it in legislation expected to top $3.5tn later in the year that they want to pass without any Republican support to plough money into education and child care, paid for by raising taxes on the wealthiest households and corporations.
The push by the White House to move ahead with both packages this year has elevated tensions on Capitol Hill. Republicans are attacking the larger plan as excessive spending that will hurt the economy and stoke additional inflation, while Democrats argue these are vital investments that would bolster long-term growth and ease price pressures over time.
Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told ABC on Sunday that Democrats in the lower chamber would not pass the bipartisan infrastructure package until the larger bill had also been approved by the Senate, but Republicans reject any relationship between the two.
“The infrastructure bill has nothing to do with the reckless tax-and-spend extravaganza that she’s talking about,” Portman said, warning that if Pelosi “gets her way”, the bipartisan agreement could be at risk.
Republicans have also expressed scepticism about voting to increase the US debt limit as part of the fiscal negotiations, angering Democrats who say there should be bipartisan support to approve a measure that would ensure the US does not default on its debt, and reflects spending that was already approved by Congress.
The US Treasury warned last week that it will start taking special measures to bolster its cash position but urged Congress to act as soon as possible to increase the country’s debt limit.