Vulnerable Dem Sens Back Bipartisan $974B Infrastructure Plan

Vulnerable Dem Sens Back Bipartisan $974B Infrastructure Plan mark kelly listens. Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on April 29, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

By Eric Mack | Sunday, 20 June 2021 09:09 AM

Senate Democrats vulnerable in the 2022 midterms are finding backing a bipartisan infrastructure deal a better way forward than rubber stamping President Joe Biden and the progressive Democrats' massive spending push.

"I want to see this get done, and I prefer we do this in a bipartisan way," Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who narrowly won a special election in 2020 and is up for reelection in 2022, told The Hill.

Infrastructure is "at the top of my list," Kelly said, noting a more traditional proposal is needed in Arizona, a state that has been trending blue, but still has large swaths of conservative voters.

"I've driven every corner of Arizona over the last couple of years," Kelly told The Hill. "Seems like every road and highway needs help.

"The major highway between Tucson and Phoenix doesn't have feeder roads in most places. It's a public safety issue."

There are 21 senators behind Sen. Joe Manchin's, D-W.Va., $974 billion, five-year infrastructure proposal, including 11 Republicans, which would be enough to push it over the Senate filibuster threshold of 60 votes.

"We didn't have to go out and recruit," Manchin told The Hill. "They're aggressively wanting to be part of it, which speaks volumes.

"This is one time in the history of our country — we've never been more divided than we are right now — if we can't put our country above ourselves, God help us all."

The White House desperately wants to deliver a legislative victory for President Joe Biden, and will consider the bipartisan infrastructure plan before going the budget reconciliation route – needing just 50 votes and VP Kamala Harris' tiebreaker – come the fall if nothing comes to fruition.

"I don't think they've ever given up on bipartisanship," a Democratic strategist close to the White House told The Hill. "I think they'll keep trying to get something until they can't, which is likely around Labor Day. That's when you'd need to go with reconciliation."

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., is another vulnerable Democrat who needs bipartisanship to win out, telling The Hill, "what's important is that we work together to reflect the values of our constituents."

"I think it's always important when we can do things in a bipartisan way to reflect the way our constituents do things," she added. "They work together without regard to political party all the time and there’s large bipartisan support for infrastructure."

Still, progressives are pushing President Biden to stay firm on $2.2 trillion plan that includes some social programs Republicans reject because they are not tied to physical infrastructure of roads, bridges, and ports.

"I think members facing tough reelections in 2022 would rather be seen as being bipartisan, but regular people care about results more than process," a second Democratic strategist told The Hill. "[Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell understands that. Bringing money home and building bridges and fixing roads will help them get reelected more than any magic compromise with Republicans.

"The thing McConnell understands better than most politicians in Washington is 99% of the things we focus on, like process, don't matter to regular people."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is putting together a $6 trillion spending plan that could force vulnerable Senate Democrats' hand under budget reconciliation.

"We're greatly confident that the contrast between what the Democrats are doing and what the American people want is so significant that it's going to help us retain the seats we have, pick up seats and win the House," Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told The Hill.

Sanders' plan is ostensibly a Hail Mary, he added.

"[Sanders] has told other Democrats that he’s expecting the Democrats to lose either the House or the Senate in two years and this is their last opportunity to take this big socialistic step," Barrasso said.

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