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The Battle Over Biden's Infrastructure Bill Continues


The battle over President Biden's infrastructure bill continues. Part of the spending agenda could get a vote on Monday, but there is a rift in the president's own party. Progressives say they won't support the slimmer $1 trillion version of the bill that excludes social spending they believe is sorely needed. That spending is in a much larger $3.5 trillion measure still being negotiated.

We're joined now by Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

JOSH GOTTHEIMER: Thanks so much for having me.

SIMON: You want to vote on Monday. Do you have the votes to get a vote?

GOTTHEIMER: We do. And, you know, this bill, as you were just mentioning, is an historic, once-in-a-century infrastructure bill. It covers everything from roads and bridges and rail to the tunnels like the Gateway Tunnel here between New York and New Jersey, which is 113 years old and needs to be replaced - to significant investment in electric vehicles and climate resiliency, which after the storms that just hit the Northeast here in Jersey with Hurricane Ida, you can imagine, are just so sorely needed. So the great news is we're going to get this done next week. And we're also working, as you pointed out before, on the reconciliation package, the other package that has so many important priorities for our country from, you know, climate to child care to reinstating the state and local tax deduction, which is very important here in the Northeast.

So, you know, listen; this is a very, very important part of the president's agenda next week. We've - it came out of the Senate in a bipartisan way with 69 votes in early August - in the beginning of August. It's been sitting in the House waiting for action. It's all done and ready for us to vote. It had the support of everyone from Bernie Sanders to Elizabeth Warren to Joe Manchin. So the key now is just to get that across the finish line. The country needs this win.

SIMON: Those are all Democrats, I should point out.

GOTTHEIMER: Which one?

SIMON: Manchin, Bernie Sanders...

GOTTHEIMER: Oh. Well, it also had, you know, everyone...

SIMON: Well, you - all the way across the spectrum, you made it, you know...

GOTTHEIMER: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It also had Mitch McConnell. It had 19 Republican senators and 50 Democratic senators when it passed the Senate in early August.

SIMON: Yeah. You're sure you have the votes? This - I mean, we can take that to the bank.

GOTTHEIMER: I'll tell you this. I've got Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who and there's no one better than getting votes than Speaker Pelosi, she - when we agreed in August to bring this to the floor in September, she said she'd get the votes. She reiterated that she's behind this in a strong way. And, you know, I talked to her yesterday, and I feel very good that we're going to get this done this week. And we have to, right? I mean, the country needs this desperately. There's 2 million jobs a year on the line here. These are hard working men and women of labor. You have to get this done. And we'll get the other one done as well.

SIMON: Well, let me bring this concern to you. Progressive Democrats are concerned that if Congress passes the first bill on Monday, if you're correct, it will dillydally and won't pass the second, much larger one with all the social spending in it. That's a practical political calculation. So are you telling us you would vote for the $3.5 trillion package after you voted for this first trillion-dollar one?

GOTTHEIMER: What I have said and I continue to say - and so have my colleagues - that whatever we can get 51 in the Senate on, which we will, we will get done and it'll be coming into law. And I'll tell you now, you know, we still don't have a - we actually don't have a bill yet. You know, we don't have that bill done. As you pointed out earlier, we're negotiating it. I and so many of my colleagues support getting something done on what's called reconciliation that I'm very confident that we are going to not just get the infrastructure done for the president and for our country, but also reconciliation. And to me, we have to get this done. It's so important. So I know we'll get there, and we're working around the clock on that other piece of legislation.

SIMON: But it doesn't sound like you're wedded to that $3.5 trillion figure.

GOTTHEIMER: Well, it's hard to be wedded to something that you haven't actually seen yet, right? What I'm wedded to are - the programs that are in there, from child care to climate, are ones that I believe are critically important. When we're done with the bill, of course, I'll give you a firm answer as soon as I read it. I just don't like to ever say I'm for anything that I haven't actually read yet. But I'll tell you what's in there and the outline of what's - the programs that are in there are things that I've supported. And I know that my colleagues do, and that's why we're going to able to get this done and across the finish line as well. Let's get both things done. But blowing up the president's agenda just doesn't make any sense.

SIMON: Democratic Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, thanks so much for being with us.

GOTTHEIMER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.