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The bipartisan infrastructure deal may be in jeopardy. Democrats have a ‘Plan B’

This week on Capitol Hill could be make or break for the bipartisan infrastructure framework that President Joe Biden celebrated one month ago. The fate of the $600 billion investment in roads, bridges, clean water and more is still uncertain, as is the much larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill also on the agenda. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff with the latest developments in Congress.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week on Capitol Hill could make or break the bipartisan infrastructure plan President Biden celebrated one month ago.

    The fate of the $1 trillion investment in roads, bridges, clean water and more is still uncertain, as is the much larger $3.5 trillion broader spending package for jobs, families and climate change.

    Lisa Desjardins joins me now to bring us up to speed.

    So, hello, Lisa.

    You have been reporting on this fortunate days. For days. Does it look like there is going to be a deal on infrastructure tonight?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In a word, Judy, no.

    We do not expect an infrastructure deal tonight, even though we're on the eve of some important deadlines here. Right now, White House officials have come to the Hill to try and work with that group of bipartisan senators to try and forge a final framework.

    Viewers might be confused. Wait a second. I thought they already agreed on this deal. Well, they agreed on a rough framework. They didn't finish exactly how they would pay for it. That's a sticking point. There are also some questions about specific spending issues with public transit.

    But until that's written down, Judy, in legislative text, I don't mean to be too irreverent here, but it's almost as if there's a proposal for marriage that was accepted, but there's no ring. There is not a ring yet. We need that legislative text.

    And until there is one, this infrastructure deal doesn't really quite yet exist.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A good way to describe it.

    So, Lisa, we know that the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has set — gone ahead and set for tomorrow — or set in motion the wheels to begin to look for this bill. But explain what's going on.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Tomorrow, the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has said the Senate will vote to begin debate on the infrastructure deal. That's one of those Senate votes that needs 60 votes. Now, this is plan A for the Democrats. The hope that they want is that they will get those 60 votes and that they would have a bipartisan infrastructure deal written by Thursday. But, right now, those 60 votes are not there.

    So, let's talk about what plan B is if this vote fails tomorrow. The vote fails. And then Leader Schumer could just move that deadline. Some Republicans tonight are asking him to move it to Monday, saying they will vote no tomorrow, but perhaps they would be ready by Monday.

    Now, what if even then the infrastructure deal doesn't come together? That's a possibility. Now we're talking about plan C. Then there would be no bipartisan deal. And many Democrats now, including the budget chairman, Senator Sanders of Vermont, says that the infrastructure deal could go into — or some sources near him — infrastructure deal could go into a large reconciliation bill.

    That's my reporting tonight, is that many Democrats expect that would be sort of like the fallout — the fallback plan, if all of this infrastructure talk, if it all falls apart. But the timing is very important here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So tell us why. Tell us why that matters.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right. It's July.

    But the truth is that the Senate operates on a very tight timeline this time of year, because, right now, the Senate is scheduled to recess in just three weeks. And we expect that the infrastructure deal alone would take two weeks of floor time. And then Democrats really want to get to that budget resolution that would open up that $3.5 trillion deal.

    Those two are connected. Right now, the big budget reconciliation deal can't move forward until it's clear what's happening with infrastructure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So that's a lot to follow.

    But we know, Lisa, there's additional news on Capitol Hill today, and that is new cases of the coronavirus are being reported. Bring us up to speed on that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I will say things have changed quickly on the Hill even just today since I walked in.

    We have confirmation from the attending physician of the U.S. Capitol that there have been cases of the coronavirus, the Delta variant, here in the Capitol that have been detected. And they have been detected among previously vaccinated staffers and one member of Congress. That's Vern Buchanan of Florida, a Republican.

    And so these are breakthrough cases that we're experiencing at the Capitol. And I will say there is one concern here especially is that we're in an era where most everyone in the Capitol has not been wearing masks because the vaccination rates here are generally high, though we do know, among especially House Republicans, it's expected that they were lower than average.

    So there's no masking here. There has been relatively little testing. And here comes this news that we have a variant spreading around. We know some Texas Democrat, state lawmakers who came here last week tested positive. They associated with some staffers here at the Capitol.

    We don't know if that's the reason for all of this breakthrough. But I want to show you the line for testing today at the Capitol. It was the longest I have ever seen during this entire pandemic. So what you see at the Capitol now is something I think you're seeing across the nation.

    Of course, this is the crossroads of the nation. Members are from all over the country here. People are re-masking here at the Capitol. Senator McConnell said today people need to get vaccinated or they are risking another shutdown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that has to be adding to the tension that's already there.

    Lisa Desjardins, we appreciate it. Thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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