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Democrats harden position on infrastructure package as doubts about bipartisan deal grow

Sen. Bernie Sanders came out against the bipartisan agreement Monday night, saying, "I wouldn't vote for it."
Image: Senate Budget Committee Hears Testimony From Acting OMB Director Young
Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., questions Shalanda Young, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, at a Senate Budget Committee hearing June 8.Shawn Thew / Pool via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Progressive Democrats working on a bipartisan infrastructure deal hardened their position on the legislation after tense talks Monday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate Democrats' leadership team, came out against a bipartisan agreement Monday night after meeting with a bipartisan group of 10 senators.

"I wouldn't vote for it," Sanders told reporters. "The bottom line is there are a lot of needs facing this country. Now is the time to address those needs, and it has to be paid for in a progressive way, given the fact that we have massive income and wealth inequality in America."

Last week, the so-called G10 group of five Democrats and five Republicans said it had reached a tentative infrastructure deal, but skepticism from Republicans and impatience from Democrats left its prospects uncertain as lawmakers departed for the weekend.

Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon have insisted that any deal must include action on climate change. They plan to hold a news conference Tuesday to call on lawmakers to include substantive climate action in the proposal, such as investments to reduce emissions.

Some Democrats have tried to pressure their leadership to abandon bipartisan talks and push through a partisan bill, instead, but there's no guarantee that there are 50 Democratic votes for that tactic, either. And for every Democratic vote appearing to be in jeopardy, another Republican would need to vote in favor.

That means the bipartisan group will need to secure more than 10 Republicans to get its proposal across the finish line. Many in the Republican conference are still bitter over the breakdown of negotiations between President Joe Biden and their chief negotiator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., this month.

The group of lawmakers huddled Monday night to flesh out details of their plan. But as they left the half-hour meeting, senators sent mixed signals.

"There are still conversations on the pay-fors," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. "There is no agreement."

The lawmakers didn't seem to be on the same page about whether a gas tax would help pay for the proposal. Republicans said it was part of the plan; Democrats said it wasn't. The White House opposes the idea, saying it would increase taxes on the middle class.

However, several senators said they plan to release their proposal with details this week — an ambitious goal for a group that seems to disagree on key issues. Both sides plan to present the plan during their respective lunches Tuesday afternoon, said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.