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Bipartisan Senate group 'very close' to reaching infrastructure deal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a photo opportunity with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Speaker's Balcony Hallway of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Thursday. Credit: Getty Images / Alex Wong

WASHINGTON — Senate negotiators on both sides of the aisle said Sunday they were inching closer to reaching an agreement on an infrastructure bill that could be voted on by early this week.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is among a group of 10 bipartisan lawmakers who have been negotiating with the White House to craft a compromise measure to fund upgrades to the nation’s roads, transit hubs and communications systems, said lawmakers were "about 90% of the way there."

Portman, appearing on ABC’s "This Week" said the main point of contention has been how much to spend on public transit. Democrats including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have been pressing for a larger share of funding for public transportation. Portman, however, without detailing the numbers Republicans have proposed for mass transit, said the figure is "generous."

"That's the one issue that’s outstanding frankly at this point; my hope is that we'll see progress on that," Portman said.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) questioned the need for increasing the proportion of funding for public transportation in the infrastructure deal, arguing that transit systems across the country received a boost in funding through the various coronavirus relief packages passed by Congress.

"Nobody’s talking about cutting transit," Toomey said on CNN's "State of the Union." "The question is, how many tens of billions of dollars on top of the huge increase that they have already gotten is sufficient? And that’s where there is a little disagreement."

Congressional Democrats, in making the case for more public transportation funding, contend investing in clean energy transportation systems is a means of tackling climate change.

Senate Republicans last Wednesday blocked a move to open debate on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package backed by President Joe Biden. GOP senators argued against opening debate without reviewing the text of the bill, but Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), appearing on "Fox News Sunday" noted that it has not been an uncommon practice for lawmakers to take up debate on the "shell" of a bill until all the details are agreed to.

Warner, also a member of the bipartisan group of negotiators, told Fox News Sunday he expected a bill would be ready for lawmakers to review on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, appearing on CBS’ "Face the Nation," said she believed passage of a bipartisan infrastructure deal is "very close."

"We're in the final strokes. We're in the final days. We're optimistic. We are all engaging daily multiple times a day with members of the Senate, and we're feeling really good about it," said Raimondo.

Republicans appearing on the Sunday political talk show circuit voiced their opposition to plans announced last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold off scheduling a House floor vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package until the U.S. Senate approves a separate tranche of infrastructure funding through the budget reconciliation process.

In a 50-50 split Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote, the reconciliation maneuver would allow Senate Democrats to pass a budget funding some of Biden’s other infrastructure priorities that are not included in the bipartisan deal, without needing 10 GOP votes normally needed to pass legislation.

Democrats are hoping to approve a package through reconciliation that includes what the White House has labeled as "human infrastructure" needs such as free pre-K schooling, a boost in child care assistance for working families and paid family leave for those taking care of ill family members.

Pelosi, appearing on ABC’s "This Week," defended her position, saying "building the human infrastructure is really a part of building the physical infrastructure. So that's why we will have something further to add."

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