Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin is cautioning Democrats against splitting President Biden’s mammoth infrastructure package into smaller parts, as some in the party have been urging.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol on Monday, Durbin (D-Ill.) made the remarks amid a flurry of discussion among other members of his party about divvying up the enormous proposal.
“I hope not,” the No. 2 Senate Democrat replied when asked if the party would break up the legislation into parts that might garner some GOP support.
“The reason I hope not is time is not on our side. We have so many things to do,” the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman continued, noting police and immigration reform.
“We don’t have a lot of time on the calendar, so the sooner the better. Keep everything together and move it in a package that works.”
Lawmakers like Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), among others, have been proponents of taking a bipartisan approach to passing infrastructure spending.
Coons, a close ally of President Biden who sits in the president’s former Senate seat, has publicly advocated in favor of passing two packages.
The first, focused on more traditional infrastructure projects, would be able to pass with considerable GOP support. The second, addressing Democratic policy priorities, would need to use budget reconciliation to pass on a party-line vote.
Budget reconciliation allows the majority party to bypass the legislative filibuster, the Senate rule requiring 60 members to end debate on most topics and move forward to a vote.
The current 50-50 split leaves Democrats in need of 10 Republicans to pass major legislation, which they don’t appear to have on any of the House-approved bills yet.
While Vice President Kamala Harris has a tie-breaking vote, 51 votes are not enough under current rules to break through a filibuster.
In Coons’ view, Democrats would be well served to pass some of the package in a bipartisan fashion, and then push through the other policy goals in a bill that Republicans wouldn’t get behind.
Durbin’s reaction is certainly the most aggressive response from a member of Democratic leadership to the idea of breaking up the bill into parts.
When asked about the GOP’s $568 billion infrastructure counter-offer to the Biden administration last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “[A]ny infrastructure bill we consider here in the Senate must include green infrastructure, create green jobs and make significant progress towards the reduction of greenhouse gases.”
Biden was elected on a platform of “unity” and bipartisanship and entered the White House as a three-decade veteran of the Senate, where he and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) developed a personal friendship.
In the early days of Biden’s presidency, he invited a group of GOP senators to the Oval Office to discuss proposals for COVID-19 relief.
The meeting was his first with any lawmakers since taking office, and the effort toward unity was largely praised from both sides of the aisle.
While the group — which included Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) — offered optimistic comments on the potential for bipartisanship after the meeting, nothing ever materialized.
The president then opted to move forward with a largely progressive agenda, choosing to pursue legislation unlikely to garner much GOP backing.
It remains to be seen if he can peel off a group of Republicans to back his infrastructure push.