“When we had a strong committee system, you had strong relationships based on trust between the chairman and ranking member,” said Ms. Collins, one of the bipartisan infrastructure negotiators. “Now, because the committee structure and the power of the committees has 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 gap has only widened after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Many Democrats believe Republicans were complicit, and some Republican lawmakers have subsequently sought to downplay the events of that day or blame the other party for them.
The recent deaths of three highly regarded former senators — Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, and John Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Mike Enzi, Republican of Wyoming — have touched off memories about a time when lawmakers of different political parties were not always at one another’s throats.
“Carl was a senator’s senator,” Kent Conrad, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, said of Mr. Levin, a longtime friend and colleague of his who died on Thursday at 87. “He showed everyone, whether you agreed or disagreed with him, how you work across the aisle. You would just hope that kind of spirit would be reignited.”
Mr. Biden and the bipartisan group are promoting the infrastructure deal as proof that the Senate is still capable of such things. But it is also evidence of how hard reaching agreement can be, suggesting that making other deals will be very difficult.
The infrastructure bill is a sweeping public works and jobs bill with something for everyone, the type of pork barrel measure that used to be the bread and butter of Congress. Yet to get what should be very popular legislation to a debate on the Senate floor has taken the concerted backing of the White House, the cooperation of the Senate leadership and weeks and weeks of intense talks. The measure could still collapse at any moment — and that is before the House gets its hands on it.
Mr. Coons agreed that the trust level looked bad from the outside, but he said it was better than it seemed within the institution.