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President Walks Back Threat To Block Infrastructure Deal Over Democratic Priorities

NOEL KING, HOST:

A bipartisan infrastructure deal appears to be back on track. Last week, you might remember, President Biden said he wouldn't sign that $1.2 trillion bill, which he supports, unless it was sent to his desk along with a separate spending measure that would include money for child care, health care and climate change, among some other things. On Saturday, Biden said he hadn't meant to link the two bills, which seems to have calmed Republicans down.

Here's Ohio Senator Rob Portman on ABC "This Week."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

ROB PORTMAN: So it was a surprise, to say the least, that those two got linked. And I'm glad they've now been delinked. And it's very clear that we can move forward with a bipartisan bill that's broadly popular, not just among members of Congress but the American people.

KING: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following this story. Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So the White House moved really fast to correct Biden's remarks. Is everything back on track?

DAVIS: You know, it would seem so. Republicans have pushed back really hard at Biden's apparent veto threat, suggesting that he had pulled the rug out from them in these negotiations and that they could go so far as to withdraw their support. But, to be clear, Democrats for literally months have been talking about this two-track approach, doing the bipartisan infrastructure bill and then moving separately on their own, using budget rules to pass a bill that wouldn't require Republican support. Republicans, including Senator Portman, have also acknowledged that Democrats could use this strategy. And that is still the plan here. It's just the threat that if they were not sent to the White House simultaneously that's been walked back. But the end goal hasn't really changed.

KING: OK. So then how are Democrats reacting to Joe Biden backtracking?

DAVIS: Well, as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last week, they can't pass one without the other. And I think that's still true. Progressive Democrats are only going to support the bipartisan deal if they believe they have the votes to pass this separate stimulus bill of Democratic priorities. So this is why Speaker Pelosi has said she's going to wait and see what the Senate can do and prove that they can pass both of these bills before the House is going to move forward. So the fate of the two bills really remains connected.

And it's going to dominate the congressional work calendar in July and likely well into the fall. And that's a big point of caution here. This is not going to happen fast. Democrats are going to try to pass a budget resolution in July that's going to outline the targets for what they want to do for their legislation. But it's a two-step process. And they're going to have to write that actual bill this fall.

KING: So what do you know about Democrats plans for that second, separate stimulus bill?

DAVIS: Well, they have outlined over the course of the past several months a huge wish list. We're talking about trillions of dollars in spending to expand the social safety net for things like Medicare. They also want money for child care programs, free community college, better elder care. They want to address climate change. Some Democrats even want to try to do immigration in this...

KING: Oh.

DAVIS: ...Legislation. It's really a one-shot deal because they can only do reconciliation once in a fiscal year. So it's going to - Democrats are going to want to do as (ph) much as this is possible. The two big questions we don't know the answers to yet is, how much is it going to cost, and how are they going to pay for it? Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders has suggested it could go as high as $6 trillion. Moderate Democrats are unlikely to go along with that much spending. So finding the kind of magic number that Bernie Sanders and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin can both support is going to be really tough here. Paying for it's also going to be a challenge.

The bipartisan deal doesn't touch taxes. But most Democrats want to roll back some portion of the Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations to pay for it. Doing that virtually (laughter) guarantees no Republican's going to support this bill. So this is about as hard as legislating gets - the management of both this very complex process to get the bills through Congress - but then negotiate the policies that are going to be in these bills is just very complicated. And something of this scope probably hasn't been done since Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act back in 2010.

KING: Wow. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis - thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.