Senators were able to reach an agreement to advance a bipartisan infrastructure measure this past week but the effort to move the legislation forward is exposing even further the trust gap among members of Congress that keeps it difficult for lawmakers to pass major bills.
Even on Friday, the infrastructure bill was delayed again after Republicans thought Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., was trying to get them to accept a Democrat-backed measure instead of the bipartisan deal, reports The New York Times.
Democrats are also suspicious of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and members of both parties are concerned that the centrists among them will give too much up to reach a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure.
Democrats are saying they fear that Republicans are dragging along on talks about infrastructure to weaken the package and stymie their push for a larger $3.5 trillion budget measure, basing their fear on what happened in 2009 and 2010, when the Republicans extended talks on healthcare.
Republicans, meanwhile, say Schumer and Democrats don’t want a bipartisan deal on infrastructure but instead would rather pass a more progressive package full of agenda items. They also believe Schumer is trying to satisfy President Joe Biden’s call for bipartisan agreement but that he still wants to be able to say he tried to cooperate with the rival party.
Several Republicans refused to vote to open the debate on the agreement until they saw its details in writing.
“When you are not relying on trust, you are relying on the printed word,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Meanwhile, members of both parties admit there are trust issues, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said he’s been reassuring Republicans that Biden and Schumer want the bipartisan agreement, but “the lack of trust from one caucus to another has made it harder to get this deal resolved.”
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said part of the issue is with the Senate’s committee system because the panels’ leaders aren’t working closely anymore with the senior committee member of the opposite party on legislation.
“When we had a strong committee system, you had strong relationships based on trust between the chairman and ranking member,” said Collins, one of the negotiators for the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, told The Times. “Because the committee structure and the power of the committees have lessened and more and more legislation is written either by groups like ours or in the leader’s office, it is harder to build those bonds of trust that allow you to get things done.”
The trust issues also grew after the Jan. 6 incidents at the Capitol, but Coons said the trust levels look better from inside the Senate than they do to outsiders.
“There are relationships here that cross party lines, that are real and are positive and are meaningful and that are helping contribute to holding this place together,” he said. “There are more than you think, but not as many as there should be.”