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How A Moderate House Democrat Thinks Infrastructure Negotiation Is Going

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It takes a therapist; also, a long slog. These are just a couple of the ways that Democratic members of the House have described efforts to come to a deal on how to move ahead on President Biden's signature legislative package. Progressives were insisting that a $3.5 trillion budget framework pass in tandem with a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that the Senate passed earlier this month. Moderate Democrats, though, wanted the infrastructure bill passed now, not held up.

Well, today news of a breakthrough - after days of sometimes messy, difficult negotiations, the two sides have reached a compromise. The House has approved the budget framework, and leaders included a commitment to vote on the infrastructure bill on September 27. Well, Texas Representative Vicente Gonzales is part of the group of moderate House members who've been tangling with their leaders - with top Democratic leaders in recent days. And he joins us now. Hey there.

Welcome.

VICENTE GONZALEZ: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So are you happy with where this has landed for now? What do you feel like you got?

GONZALEZ: I am. I think this was a win for the American people, and it was a win-win within our caucus. And I think it shows that the Democratic ideas and tent, if you will, is a large one. And we represent a wide spread of different views within our country. But today was a success for the Democratic Party and for everyone involved in this negotiation. And what we got was a commitment that we weren't going to hold the bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage to reconciliation. And I think...

KELLY: Yeah. And you nailed down, if I may - you nailed down this date, September 27. Why was that so important?

GONZALEZ: Well, we needed to get it done before October 1 because the funding would end. But also, we needed - we just needed a date certain that the speaker and the leadership would be committed to put it on the floor. This is a bill that was a bipartisan bill that passed with almost 70 votes in the Senate with 20 - 19 Republicans.

Seventy-five percent of Americans agree that this is a good bill. You know, it's $1.1 trillion of infrastructure funding. It's going to help repair bridges and roads and airports and ports of entry. And in Texas, for example, I have over 19,000 miles of damaged roads, and we have over 1,800 bridges that are damaged. This is the largest infrastructure bill this generation has ever had. And I think when we travel around the country and then travel around the world, we see that we're falling behind in infrastructure. And I think this is going to be transformative.

KELLY: I want to ask about where you land on some of the major new policy items in the proposal - things like expanding Medicare coverage, things like adding new climate change programs. And I'm asking in part because, as we mentioned, you represent Texas.

GONZALEZ: That's right.

KELLY: Senator Joe Manchin, also a moderate Democrat - he's expressed concerns with regulations impacting fossil fuels. That would be a big deal to some of your constituents.

GONZALEZ: I agree. We - well, on expanding Medicare, I'm completely in agreement. When we talk about energy, we need to be very careful that it doesn't impact jobs in Texas and that we assure that we have a strong energy sector in this country.

KELLY: Looking ahead, you have this date, September 27. That doesn't make anything easy in the weeks before then. Some moderates, your fellow moderates, are expressing a lot of concern about the size of this $3.5 trillion budget resolution. Would you vote for a package with that size of a price tag?

GONZALEZ: So I'm more concerned about what's in it than the price tag. If there - if it's good social investments, good, solid infrastructure investments, if it's investments that are going to create jobs, that are going to give vision and dental care to our seniors, that are going to make child care affordable, more after school care for our parents, if it makes community college affordable - I went to community college before I was able to go to a university and to law school. We need to assure that the pathways are available. And so I support a lot of those ideas. But ultimately, we need to remember that we don't know the details of what's in that $3.5 trillion package. And I think we're all eager to find out.

KELLY: A lot of details to iron out and a lot of work still to come, both among within your caucus and then with Republican colleagues as well. That is Texas Congressman Vicente Gonzalez talking to us there about House Democrats' efforts to pass infrastructure legislation in the House.

Thank you so much, Congressman.

GONZALEZ: Thank you. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.