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Ron Wyden and Bernie Sanders.

A bipartisan group of 10 senators announced a broad, if somewhat vague agreement on infrastructure Thursday afternoon, triggering a group of Democrats to warn that they wouldn't allow a goal of "bipartisanship" to outweigh the critical goals of addressing climate change and rebuilding the nation.

Among those sending a warning is a powerful committee chair, Sen. Ron Wyden.

CNN is reporting that the agreement includes $1.2 trillion over eight years, with just $570 billion in new spending. In the previous failed negotiations between President Joe Biden and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, he set a floor of $1 trillion in new spending. The Senate group would spend $974 million of the total over the first five years on "core, physical infrastructure," would not raise taxes, and "[m]any of the specific details still need to be ironed out." That thing about where the devil resides comes to mind, including the fact that five Republicans agreeing to this is not 10 Republicans who would be required to pass it, and finding five more willing to buck Sen. Mitch McConnell is unlikely. Extremely unlikely. So the talk currently is to pass this smaller agreement with regular order, reaching the 60-vote threshold under filibuster rules, and then pass the rest—whatever the rest might be—with budget reconciliation, which requires just 51 votes.

A growing list of Democrats, running the ideological gamut from Colorado's Michael Bennett to Massachusett's Ed Markey, wants more certainty that this will work. They are vowing to oppose any legislation that does not center fighting climate change. That includes Oregon Democrat Wyden, who is chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He told The Washington Post "he would reject a deal that did not address the climate crisis or raise taxes on multinational corporations." Since he and his committee are instrumental to passing a bill this big, that's significant.

New Mexico's Martin Heinrich sums up where this chunk of Democrats stand on this two-bill idea: “I think that's a very dangerous approach to this unless we have a very well-defined and secure commitment from the necessary senators to be able to be assured," Heinrich said, referring back to those missing five Republicans on a narrow infrastructure bill without climate policies. "I'm not a redline guy, but I'm not in a mood to ignore the greatest existential threat to my children’s generation." Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut is there, too:


Why let Republicans decide the size of an infrastructure bill when reconciliation is a perfectly legitimate process (used unapologetically by the GOP when they were in power) to do a bill that will actually make a difference? It’s not cheating to use the rules.

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 11, 2021

As is Sanders, chair of the Budget Committee and again, pretty critical to getting a large package passed. "The problem is this country faces enormous issues that have been ignored and neglected for a very long period of time," he said. "Even if you look at infrastructure from the narrow perspective of roads and bridges, it's inadequate. That's not me talking, that's the American Society of Civil Engineers."

Sanders also pointed to a problem in their plan, which by all accounts would include raising the gas tax by tying to inflation. "I think the gas tax is a fairly regressive way of funding transportation. It hurts rural America especially hard," said Sanders. The White House doesn't like it, either.


Asked earlier how much revenue it would bring to the table, Romney said, “Not much.”

— Igor Bobic (@igorbobic) June 10, 2021

It should also be said, when looking at the possibility that there could be 10 Republicans in the Senate willing to actually do something to help the nation, this agreement might just be vapor as the members of the very group who supposedly reached it are definitely not on the same page.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said talks are "in the middle stages" but that there wouldn't be a deal Thursday. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana said there was no agreement but "we might" get there, then listed the key problem of disagreement over total spending and how to pay for it. "For some people it's going to be plenty, for others it's not going to be near enough. There's going to be challenges for Republicans and Democrats," Tester said. "The words [Republicans] use are: we have a general, total agreement." He's saying, without saying it, that Republicans are lying.

That doesn't bode well for progress in this group. 

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Senate confirms progressive tech critic Lina Khan to become an FTC commissioner

Lina Khan, nominee for Commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), speaks during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 21, 2021.Saul Loeb | Pool | Reuters

The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden's nominee to the Federal Trade Commission, Lina Khan, the young progressive who helped launch a reckoning amongst antitrust scholars and enforcers.

At 32, Khan will become the youngest commissioner ever confirmed to the agency. Her confirmation also signals a bipartisan desire to impose more regulations on Big Tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and Apple.

Khan became a well-known figure in antitrust circles after writing "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox" for the Yale Law Review in 2017, while a student at the university. The paper made the case for using a different framework for evaluating competitive harm than the popular consumer welfare standard. That standard essentially says that antitrust law violations can be determined based on harm to consumers, which is often measured based on prices.

But Khan argued that standard could miss significant competitive harm in the modern economy, such as predatory pricing that lowers consumer prices in the short term but allows a company that can afford it to quickly gain market share. She also argued that both owning and selling on a marketplace, like Amazon does, could allow a business to exploit information across their ecosystem to undercut the competition.

In the years since, Khan has become a recognized name among those in the field and a noted figure among progressives eager to see more expansive enforcement of the antitrust laws. She participated in the House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust investigation into Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, helping to compile the report from Democratic staff that found each held monopoly power.

The report recommended legislative reforms to reinvigorate competition in digital markets, which informed several recent proposals introduced by subcommittee members last week. Khan specifically worked on the Google section of the Democratic report. The company has since been sued on antitrust grounds by the Department of Justice and several states.

As a commissioner, Khan will be tasked with voting on enforcement matters in areas of both competition and consumer protection. That means she will also have to deal with questions of whether companies have effectively secured their customers' data or misled them with deceptive marketing or so-called dark patterns that can influence users' choices online through calculated designs.

Khan could end up voting on whether to bring antitrust cases against some of the very tech companies she has investigated in the past. The FTC has been probing Amazon on antitrust grounds, Bloomberg has reported.

But Khan's past writing on the company has already made some lawmakers question whether she would be allowed to vote on the case or be expected to recuse herself. Khan told Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at her confirmation hearing that she does not have any financial conflicts that would indicate recusal under ethics laws and that she would follow the evidence where it leads.

More recently, Khan joined the faculty at Columbia Law School, teaching antitrust as an associate professor. Prior to that role, Khan has worked as legal director for anti-monopoly group Open Markets Institute and as a legal advisor for Democratic FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra, who has been nominated to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Following Khan's confirmation, Biden is left to fill one more commissioner spot to replace Chopra when he departs the agency and to announce a permanent chair (Democrat Rebecca Kelly Slaughter currently serves as acting chair). The FTC is made up of five commissioners including the chair, with no more than three coming from the same party.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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