Senior Democrat caught on hot mic suggests bypassing Republicans on infrastructure

Ben Cardin
Sen. Ben Cardin. Leigh Vogel / Stringer
  • Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin was heard suggesting reconciliation for the upcoming infrastructure bill.
  • He cited likely Republican opposition and said the bill will resemble the $US1.9 ($2) trillion stimulus.
  • Conservatives and moderates have already complained about the prospect of another reconciliation bill.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A senior Democratic senator, Ben Cardin of Maryland, was overheard in a “hot mic” moment saying the next trillion-dollar spending bill will probably have to bypass Republicans once again.

In a moment caught by C-SPAN on Monday, the chair of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure was overheard telling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that Democrats will likely have to use reconciliation to pass an infrastructure bill, Politico first reported.

-Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) March 15, 2021

Democrats recently used reconciliation to pass the $US1.9 ($2) trillion “American Rescue Plan” which President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday. The infrastructure bill could carry an even larger price tag, and Cardin said Democrats will “most likely have to use reconciliation” to pass that one, too.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be put together similar,” Cardin told Buttigieg when speaking about the infrastructure bill. “The Republicans will be with you to a point, and then -” he tailed off, suggesting that GOP backing would taper off as Democrats assemble a large bill.

House Democrats officially began working on an infrastructure package on Friday, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying in a statement that she aims to negotiate with Republicans on the legislative details.

She said it was her hope that bipartisanship would “prevail as we address other critical needs in energy and broadband, education and housing, water systems and other priorities.”

President Joe Biden has already held infrastructure talks with bipartisan groups of lawmakers. On February 11, he met with four bipartisan senators on the topic, and in the beginning of March, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers joined the president to discuss possible funding methods.

After the latter meeting with Biden, Sam Graves, ranking member of the House Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized the prospect of another party-line procedure.

The next bill “cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress,” he said, referring to previous Democratic legislation advanced under Pelosi.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multitrillion-dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said. “We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support.”

The Biden administration is reportedly weighing tax increases on wealthy Americans and large corporations to finance at least part of its domestic spending plans. Still, some experts say a significant portion of the legislation could be deficit-financed, citing the low cost of federal borrowing and the nature of infrastructure spending as a one-off investment in the economy.

On the Democratic side of the Senate, the influential moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in an “Axios on HBO” interview that Democrats need to work with Republicans on the next big spending bill.

“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” Manchin said. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying.”

Biden has not yet announced specific funding plans for an infrastructure bill, although his campaign platform included a $US2 ($3) trillion infrastructure proposal. Manchin has said he could support a bill worth up to $US4 ($5) trillion, as long as it was paid for adequately.