(Recasts with Schumer comments, adds committee action on surface transportation and Romney comment on indexed gas tax)
By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday said he was open to considering a bipartisan infrastructure bill, but wanted to see it in writing – and added he might also push for a follow-up measure that had only his party's support.
President Joe Biden's push for a sweeping $1.7 trillion package in Congress to revamp roads and bridges and tackle such other issues as education and home healthcare faced a setback https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-ambitions-infrastructure-voting-guns-hit-washington-buzz-saw-2021-06-09 earlier this week when Biden, a Democrat, rejected a far smaller proposal put forward by Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito.
That left room for a new group of 10 moderate senators from the two parties to pitch a new idea designed to generate enough support to pass through the 100-seat Senate with the 60 votes necessary for most bills.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell also told the group his was open to their ideas, Republicans said.
Schumer said work was still progressing on two tracks – one a bipartisan infrastructure bill and the other a measure that if brought to the floor, could pass with only Democratic votes through a maneuver called reconciliation that bypasses the rule requiring 60 votes for bills to advance. Biden and Schumer have talked about such a two-track approach
"I was told verbally, stuff, I've asked for paper, I'll look at it," Schumer said. "But we continue to proceed on two tracks. A bipartisan track and a reconciliation track, and both are moving forward."
Republicans and Democrats in the 10-senator negotiating group said they were making progress on Thursday.
Republican negotiator, Senator Susan Collins, told Reuters the group had a good meeting with McConnell. "He certainly did not commit one way or the other. But he's in a listening mode," she said.
Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat in the negotiating group, told reporters that "things are going in the right direction."
Republican Senator Mitt Romney said there was also "general agreement" on a top line spending figure but it was not set in concrete. He did not specify the number, but told reporters that the expected package would be paid for, in part, by indexing the federal tax on gasoline to inflation.
He and Democratic Senator Jon Tester also spoke of a provision that might raise revenue by having the Internal Revenue Service go after tax cheats.
At the same time, infrastructure-related transportation bills moved forward at the congressional committee level.
A House of Representatives panel on Thursday ended more than 17 hours of debate with a 38-26 vote authorizing $547 billion in additional spending for surface transportation. The Senate Commerce Committee was also set to unveil a $78 billion surface transportation bill, according to sources.
Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, said on Thursday she was encouraged by bipartisan negotiations in both the House of Representatives and Senate.
"We're seeing progress on multiple fronts right now," she told CNN. "This is how a bill becomes a law. It's a process with many steps, and we're encouraged by all of the progress happening on these different paths simultaneously."
But the bipartisan push came under fire from Democrats who have criticized a Republican approach that narrows the focus to physical infrastructure and rules out tax increases for corporations and the wealthy.
"I don't know if there's a scenario where you can lose 10 Democrats and get 60 votes in the Senate. So this package ultimately is going to have to have the sign-off of every single Democrat," said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who is not one of the 10 senators leading the negotiating.
The Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties.
"I share the worries of others that the direction that the discussions are heading in are not necessarily going to be able to unite the Democratic caucus," Murphy said.
Republicans have rejected the president's infrastructure plan, which would address climate change, build up some social programs and pay for itself by raising taxes on U.S. corporations.
In the latest bipartisan discussions, Republican lawmakers said the group reached tentative conclusions on specific spending provisions that it would pay for without raising taxes. But they would not discuss details. (Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)
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