Manchin, Capito discuss bipartisan infrastructure deal as US Senate continues work

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s U.S. senators are excited about the possible impact of a bipartisan infrastructure measure as senators work on finalizing related legislation.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 67-32 to move forward with the plan, in which 17 Republicans — including West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito — joined Democrats. Negotiators announced hours before the vote that President Joe Biden and a bipartisan group had reached a deal that includes $550 billion in new spending.

“We’re still proving them wrong in being able to operate in a bipartisan manner,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters on Thursday. “When you have both (Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer and (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell vote for the same piece of legislation, that is monumental.”

According to preliminary estimates, the bipartisan proposal would dedicate $110 billion toward road and bridge projects, $73 billion for electricity and power grid work, $65 billion for broadband improvements, and $55 billion for water infrastructure. The plan would be funded by repurposing unused coronavirus relief funds and unemployment insurance money as well as return investment on projects, federal auctions and delaying the Medicare Part D rebate rule.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. (Office of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin)

“This is all paid for. No new taxes,” Manchin said.

Lawmakers have credited the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for its approval of legislation regarding water infrastructure and surface transportation. The full Senate passed the committee’s $35 billion water infrastructure proposal in April, and committee members in May approved a $311 billion bill covering highways and transportation improvements.

Capito, the committee’s ranking member, noted the funding’s inclusion in her review of the proposal.

“The two bills that we passed unanimously are encompassed in this bill in their entirety, so I’m very, very familiar with what the final product is,” she said. “I supported it yesterday, and I plan to support it as we move through the next several days as we get amendments and other voices weighing in.”

Capito led Republican senators in earlier negotiations with the Biden administration, although talks ended in early June without a deal. President Joe Biden and the bipartisan group announced late last month an agreement on an infrastructure framework, but it took a month for both sides to finalize the deal.

“We had negotiated as Republicans and Democrats in our committees, and that’s what this group followed because that was the foundation that I set when I began my negotiations with President Biden,” Capito said. “I’m very gratified by that. That I was able to get the ball rolling and move it down the field. And I’m really excited the group was able to push it over the finish line.”

The proposal also includes the American Jobs in Energy Manufacturing Act; Manchin and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in March introduced the legislation, which dedicates funding for tax credits designed to encourage companies to manufacture clean energy technologies. The act sets aside $4 billion for upgrading facilities located in coal-dependent areas.

Multiple organizations support the act, including the United Mine Workers of America and the Sierra Club.

Democratic leaders have stressed their desire to pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal and a resolution regarding a broad $3.5 trillion plan before leaving the nation’s capital for the August recess. The second measure includes Medicare expansion, universal pre-K and efforts addressing climate change.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

Democrats are planning to pass the second proposal through budget rules that allow passage with 51 votes and Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie in the split Senate.

“This is sort of the wish list of social infrastructure,” Capito said.

“I think they are all worthy topics, but the frustrating thing for me is that the Democrats have sent a $3.5 trillion spending package, but they don’t tell you what it is. It’s almost like they just want to make sure they spend $3.5 trillion, and it doesn’t really matter what it’s paying for.”

Manchin argued legislators should consider both bills individually.

“Out of the respect and civility we should have for all of our colleagues who have worked hard on the larger bill coming behind this one, then let’s take a good look and see if we can support, where we can support, how we can improve and make it better,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to be looking forward to.”

While legislative text has not been released on the $3.5 trillion plan, Democratic leaders have suggested it will include tax changes impacting wealthy Americans and corporations. Manchin, who voted against the 2017 tax law, previously said he would consider modifications that do not hurt the country’s economic competitiveness.

“I approach it on what is reasonable, responsible, and what’s going to keep us competitive in the global market,” he said Thursday.

Schumer announced Thursday there are enough Democratic votes to move forward with the $3.5 trillion proposal before the legislative recess, which starts Aug. 9.

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