WASHINGTON — The bipartisan infrastructure deal appeared to be on shaky ground Monday as Democratic and Republican negotiators struggled to reach agreement on lingering disputes, most notably how much money to spend on public transit.
A bipartisan group of senators struck a deal in June with President Joe Biden that would allow for $579 billion in new infrastructure spending, but lawmakers have spent the intervening weeks trying to hammer out the details and have been unable to finalize a bill.
Democrats sent Republicans an offer Sunday seeking to resolve the outstanding issues, including items such as broadband policy, labor provisions pertaining to the construction of projects, the use of unspent Covid-19 money and transit funding, according to a Democratic source close to the talks.
But Republicans did not accept that offer.
One GOP source familiar with the negotiations called it “discouraging,” and added that “the White House will need to show more flexibility” and listen to the senators in the working group if the deal “is going to be successful.”
There was also backbiting between the two parties after a weekend spent trying to hash out the final sticking points. The Democratic source accused GOP negotiators of moving the goal posts. And the Republican source said Democrats were attempting to reopen aspects of the deal that they thought had been resolved.
It was unclear Monday whether the clash was an indication of impending failure or whether it was merely tough negotiating in the final stretch between the two parties seeking to maximize their victories.
But one thing was clear: Hopes of finishing the legislation Monday, as senators had optimistically predicted late last week, were fast fading.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that Congress had reached “a critical moment” on infrastructure, adding that “it’s time for everybody to get to yes and produce an outcome for the American people.”
He said the Senate could work next weekend and that “further delays” could force senators to continue working during the month-long recess scheduled for August.
On Monday morning, former President Donald Trump, who remains the de facto leader of the Republican Party, sought to throw a wrench into the talks by releasing a statement telling GOP senators: “Don’t do the infrastructure deal.”
Trump — who failed to get infrastructure negotiations off the ground while he was in office — did not identify any policies that he opposes, nor did he say what GOP negotiators should ask for or reject. But he told Republicans not to be played for “weak fools and losers.”
Hours later, Schumer urged Republicans not to listen to “a disgraced former president.”
The deal carries high stakes for many cities and states waiting to see if they’re about to get assistance to build highways, public transit and more. It also carries high stakes for Biden and two of the top Senate negotiators who have been front and center in the talks.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, is retiring and in legacy-building mode as he seeks to make good on his reputation as a moderate who works across the aisle. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is an outspoken proponent of the 60-vote threshold to pass bills, and the infrastructure pact is an opportunity to show the two parties can still work together on major issues.
“We’re about 90 percent of the way there,” Portman said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “We’re going to legislate the language with colleagues and with staff, and I feel good about getting that done this week.”