McConnell just said he’ll vote to advance Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal in a major test vote

mitch mcconnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does a cable news interview before the start of a two-week recess, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would vote to advance the bipartisan infrastructure deal.
  • The procedural vote will advance a vehicle of the bill, which will later be replaced with legislative text.
  • McConnell’s approval comes after Sens. Portman and Sinema met with President Biden last month to negotiate the framework of the infrastructure deal.
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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he would vote to advance the bipartisan infrastructure bill that GOP lawmakers have staunchly opposed in recent weeks.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote to advance a vehicle for the bill on Wednesday evening, which will later be replaced by the amendments proposed by GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona.

Portman and Sinema met with President Joe Biden last month to negotiate the framework of the infrastructure deal, later announcing they had reached an agreement.

“Based on a commitment from Leader Schumer to Senators Portman and Sinema that the Portman-Sinema amendment to be filed will be the substitute amendment, I will vote to proceed to the bipartisan infrastructure bill,” McConnell tweeted Wednesday evening.

McConnell’s support will likely ensure the agreement gets enough Republican votes to advance. A final vote on the bill could come sometime in the next two weeks.

The bipartisan agreement is the product of nearly a month of tumultuous negotiations between Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and the Biden administration. It will provide nearly $550 billion in fresh funding to repair roads and bridges, along with upgrading broadband connections nationwide.

It will by covered by a blend of revenue sources including unspent coronavirus relief funding, new cryptocurrency tax enforcement, and some corporate user fees, per a White House fact sheet.

Democrats want to move that package in tandem with a $3.5 trillion party-line spending package that will contain many social initiatives strongly opposed by Republicans. That will embark on the arduous reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority vote and all 50 Senate Democrats to stick together.

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Republican Sen. Rob Portman says Trump is ‘definitely the leader of the party’

senator rob portman of ohio
Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

  • GOP Sen. Rob Portman said former president Trump is “definitely” the leader of the party.
  • He cited his popularity “among the Republican base,” Portman said on ABC’s “This Week.”
  • His comments come after Trump’s first rally post-White House in Ohio Saturday.
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Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said former President Donald Trump is “definitely” the leader of the GOP in an interview Sunday morning.

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week” anchor, Jonathan Karl asked Portman if Trump is “the effective leader of the Republican Party?”

“He’s definitely the leader of the party in the sense that he has high popularity among the Republican base, and that’s what you saw last night. You saw a big turnout,” said Portman.

Trump spoke at a rally in Wellington, Ohio, on Saturday in front of thousands, where he boosted fraudulent claims about the 2020 election. He also called Ohio Rep. Anthony Gonzalez – one of the few Republicans who voted in favor to impeach him after the Capitol insurrection – a “disgrace.”

Portman said the focus of the Republican party and Trump should be on obtaining the majority in the House and Senate.

“Let’s focus on the policies that worked and also on what’s not working now,” Portman continued. “So that’s what I would focus on and not the other stuff.”

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A bipartisan Senate group wants to fund an IRS crackdown on ‘tax cheats’ in nascent infrastructure proposal

Angus King
Sen. Angus King (I-ME).

  • Senators on both sides of the aisle agree that the IRS should be funded in new spending.
  • Sen. Angus King told Insider “there’s a lot of money we’re leaving on the table” and he understands “going after tax cheats” is part of a deal.
  • Sen. Rob Portman, a prominent GOP lawmaker, said a $40 billion investment would go a long way.
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As bipartisan infrastructure talks plod on, funneling money to beef up IRS enforcement looks like it’ll be sticking around.

Sen. Angus King, an independent of Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, told Insider on Tuesday that deciding what pay-fors make it into the final package is difficult – but suggested that funding for IRS enforcement will remain.

“I understand going after tax cheats is part of it,” King said. “There’s a lot of money we’re leaving on the table right now.”

The bipartisan Senate group of 10 – evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats – is working on a $1 trillion package. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a prominent lawmaker in the group, told reporters Tuesday that money to bulk up the IRS’s ability to enforce tax laws would be included in the nascent framework.

The IRS officially estimates the “tax gap” coming in at $441 billion a year. But Charles Rettig, the agency’s commissioner, told Congress in April that the number could actually be over $1 trillion.

This gap between taxes owed and taxes paid could only grow if left without intervention, according to the Treasury Department, which estimates that President Joe Biden’s proposed $80 billion investment in the IRS could bring in an additional $700 billion over 10 years. That would still leave hundreds of billions in taxes going uncollected each year, Insider’s Ayelet Sheffey reports.

The bipartisan approach to IRS enforcement might not go that high.

“We have a CBO estimate that, if you put about $40 billion into bringing back the IRS workforce … that could result in $110 billion – which nets out to $63 billion,” Portman said on Tuesday. “It’s a relatively modest increase in IRS spending compared to what the Democrats proposed under Biden’s plan.”

The number of agents devoted to working on sophisticated tax evasion enforcement has fallen by 35% over the last decade, according to Treasury and the IRS budget has fallen by 20%, while audits fell by 42% from 2010 to 2017. According to a White House fact sheet, the audit rate for those making over $1 million a year declined by 80% from 2011 to 2018.

Biden wants to ramp up enforcement on the wealthiest Americans. A recent study from IRS researchers and academics found the top 1% of Americans fail to report about a quarter of their income. Income underreporting is nearly twice as high for the top 0.1%, which could account for billions unreported.

The role of IRS enforcement is coming into greater relief following a bombshell ProPublica report, which revealed just how little in proportional taxes some American billionaires pay. The tax mechanisms that those billionaires utilize are actually completely legal, but they’ve kickstarted talks of tax reform among Democrats.

Following the ProPublica report, five former treasury secretaries published an op-ed in The New York Times saying that, “in the ways outlined by President Biden’s recent proposal,” more enforcement could be pursued.

The five former treasury secretaries – who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents – write: “But on this issue, all should agree, including members of Congress of both parties: Giving the I.R.S. the tools it needs to improve compliance will raise significant revenue and create a fairer, more efficient system of tax administration.”

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10 GOP Senators plan to propose a new compromise COVID-19 bill which would shrink direct payments to Americans from $1,400 to $1,000

Susan Collins-Rob Portman
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) speaks with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in the Capitol.

  • Ten GOP senators are planning to float a compromise COVID-19 bill capping stimulus payments at $50,000.
  • Under the GOP proposal, direct payments would be reduced from $1,400 to $1,000.
  • The senators want to meet with Biden and are urging Democrats not to push a package through via reconciliation.
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A group of 10 Senate Republicans announced on Sunday they will soon unveil a $600 billion stimulus package in an effort to strike a compromise with the Biden administration.

The Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, also requested a meeting with President Joe Biden to discuss their proposal. The plan’s size is less than a third of the $1.9 trillion plan envisioned by Biden and most Democratic leaders in Congress.

“We recognize your calls for unity and want to work in good faith with your Administration to meet the health, economic, and societal challenges of the COVID crisis,” the letter said.

In addition to Collins, it was signed by Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Todd Young of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Details about the forthcoming Republican plan trickled out on Sunday. Portman said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” it would aim the new round of direct payments to Americans who earn less than $50,000 a year and married couples making below $100,000.

According to Cassidy in a separate Fox News appearance, the direct payment amount would be cut from the current $1,400 Democratic proposal to $1,000. The Biden proposal has a provision for a fresh wave of $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans.

The Republican letter also sketched out more about the plan’s provisions. It would extend the $300 federal unemployment benefit; provide $160 billion in funds for virus testing and vaccine distribution; and provide extra money for the Paycheck Protection Program as well as schools.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Biden’s White House staff

Portman, who just last week announced that he would retire in 2022 after two terms, implored Democrats not to push a large relief bill through Congress using the reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority.

Portman and the other nine GOP senators are calling on Biden to act on his call for “unity” and confer with the GOP group in crafting a smaller compromise package.

“My hope is the president will meet with us,” Portman said. 

Since being sworn in, Biden has emphasized he is open to seeking a bipartisan deal with Republicans on an economic relief package. Brian Deese, a top White House economic advisor, said that was still the case.

Biden “is open to ideas wherever they may come,” Deese told NBC News on Sunday. “What he’s uncompromising about is the need to move with speed on a comprehensive plan.”

Democrats, though, are preparing to circumvent Republicans using reconciliation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Democrats would vote on a budget resolution this week, the first step in the process.

It appears unlikely the Biden administration will sign onto or adopt many elements of a GOP plan which curtails some of their top relief priorities like strengthened unemployment insurance.

“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” Biden said at the White House on Friday. “The risk is not doing enough.”

In December 2020, Congress passed a $900 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief package, which included $600 direct payments to individual Americans and $300 federal unemployment benefits until March 14.

Democratic leaders have set mid-March as a deadline for legislative action because millions of Americans stand to lose their jobless aid after that date.

At the time, Biden made it clear that the December package was only “a down payment” on a more comprehensive bill that he would seek to pass once he was in office.

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