Bipartisan House group endorses Biden-Senate infrastructure deal

Washington — An influential group of bipartisan lawmakers in the U.S. House on Tuesday endorsed the $579 billion infrastructure deal struck between Senate members and President Joe Biden. 

The endorsement adds significant momentum to the package in the lower chamber but potentially endangers the chances of incorporating key priorities for the administration's agenda, including billions in funding for electric vehicles. 

"Our endorsement now of the Senate proposal hopefully can allow the Senate to formulate the legislative details, pass it, and send it to us, knowing that we likely have the votes to get it done," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who is vice chair of the caucus. "It was a very encouraging sign."

The 58-member Problem Solvers Caucus has an equal number of lawmakers from each party and includes five Michigan members: Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens and Republican Reps. Peter Meijer and Upton.

The group put out a statement Tuesday saying it "strongly supports" the framework, which was similar to an outline that the group had proposed last month.

"In light of the bipartisan, bicameral genesis of the framework, we encourage an expeditious, standalone vote in the House and thank our bipartisan Senate partners and the Biden administration for working so closely with us to demonstrate that cooperation is still possible in Washington," the statement read. 

The statement's call for a standalone vote departs from the plan laid out by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to tie the package's approval in the House to the Senate taking up a multi-trillion resolution pushed by Democratic leaders that would include priorities such as child care, education, senior care and climate change.

An official endorsement by the Problem Solvers — whose leaders met last week with White House adviser Steve Ricchetti and legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell — indicates that at least 75% of members signed on, meaning they would vote together on the measure when it reaches the floor.

The framework agreed to last month by Biden and a group of 10 bipartisan senators proposes $579 billion in new spending over the next five years, with total expenditures of $973 billion over five years and $1.2 trillion over eight years.

"It embraces what many of us believe are the traditional infrastructure needs. I know the president was hoping for $1 trillion more, which is and was always going to be very difficult," Upton said.

"But this is something I think we can come to agreement on and get it to his desk, maybe before the August break starts," he added. "But my suspicion is, we're not going to get out at the end of July. We're going to be in a little bit of August to get this thing done."

The Senate framework proposes significantly less than the administration's initial $2 trillion proposal, which included funding for roads and bridges but also significant funding for other projects such as retrofitting homes, upgrading child care facilities, research and development on new technology, and improving access to home care for elderly people and people with disabilities.

Among the items on the chopping block is $174 billion in proposed funding for electric vehicles, including money for research and development, charging infrastructure, tax incentives and point-of-sale rebates, and replacing federal, state and local fleets with EVs. 

That EV funding has been a source of contention in Congress, where some Republicans have argued it's an unreasonable spending priority that tips the market scales in favor of electrification. The Problem Solvers Caucus' original infrastructure proposal included $25 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure and electric buses.

Instead, the framework agreed-upon between the White House and the bipartisan groups of lawmakers would include $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and $7.5 billion for electrifying public transit and buses.

"We had to have a careful balance. At the end of the day, the numbers have to add up," Upton said.

"There’s still a significant increase for EVs. It’s not the number the president had, but I think he’d accept the package that we came to bipartisan agreement on," he added. "Nobody’s king. You have to work together."

Other legislation, such as a House surface transportation funding bill and a bill to boost EV tax credits to $12,500, is still under consideration and would put additional funding toward encouraging electric vehicle adoption.

Experts estimate it would cost $35 billion to $45 billion to create a nationwide charging network like what Biden has proposed, potentially leveraged through required matches from local governments or private companies. 

Dingell, the congresswoman from Dearborn and a former General Motors Co. executive, said she's confident the electric vehicle funding will still be included in legislation to enact the rest of the president's agenda: "I'm working with all the stakeholders to ensure that we're getting what we need to get for EVs."

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a staunch defender of the American automobile industry, pauses for reporters after a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus and Biden administration officials to discuss progress on an infrastructure bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 15, 2021.

Biden and the Senate bipartisan group reached a deal late last month to pursue the slimmed-down infrastructure bill, which House Democrats planned to withhold passage on until the Senate took up the bill including the rest of the president's jobs agenda.

Biden also indicated he wouldn't sign the infrastructure bill until the rest of his proposal makes it through, enraging Republicans, though he promptly walked back the statement.

But some Michigan members aren't yet ready to embrace the strategy. Slotkin, a Democrat, has indicated she is open to supporting the partisan infrastructure package but wants to see what's in it first.

"Just show me what we’re talking about and show me how it’ll help my district," Slotkin told Axios last week. "I think I’ve got some peers who are like, ‘Heck no. I’m not doing a reconciliation package.’ I’m not there."

And Michigan Republicans have expressed hesitation about Democrats' electric vehicle initiatives. Upton of St. Joseph has called other EV funding proposals "an attempt to push electric vehicles on the American public" and urged focus on the supply chain before investing in incentives.

Meijer, the Republican from Grand Rapids Township, has indicated that he found the level of EV infrastructure spending proposed by the administration to be excessive and "not pegged to realistic metrics."

Rep. Peter Meijer

"I drive an electric vehicle. I still found the $400 billion that the Biden administration had thrown out for electric vehicle charging infrastructure hard to justify, especially given the pace of market rate charging infrastructure that's already being developed," Meijer told Yahoo Finance last month. Biden's budget proposal included $394 million for EV charging station credits.

It's an issue the U.S. auto industry will be tracking closely as negotiations continue — American automakers have pledged billions in developing and deploying electric vehicles in the coming years.

General Motors has said it would spend $35 billion through 2025 on electric and autonomous vehicles and says it aims to eliminate tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035.

Ford Motor Co. has pledged to make most of its European lineup electric or hybrid by 2026 and all-electric by 2030, and nearly all Stellantis NV nameplates will have an electrified option by 2025, according to the company. 

Those big investments in EVs have been rewarded by rising stock prices, but the auto companies argue federal help will be necessary to out-compete rivals in China, where the ruling Communist Party can — and has — poured massive amounts of money into launching a dominant electric vehicle market.