President Joe Biden plans to meet with Republicans next week after a group of GOP senators pitched a fresh offer on a major new infrastructure plan, but warned that the window for a deal will shut soon, with Republicans still over $1 trillion short of the White House’s latest proposal.
“We’re going to have to close this down soon,” Biden said of talks with Republicans, speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One to travel to Cleveland for a speech on the economy. He said he briefly spoke Thursday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who’s been leading the Republican counter-proposals, and plans to meet with her “sometime next week.”
Capito said after the brief call, “I got clear direction from him so that was good. Keep moving forward.” She said Biden did not outright reject the GOP’s latest offer while noting Biden “doesn’t want to drag this on forever.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Republicans would send further details on their proposal later in the day. Biden told Capito that he will then respond, according to Psaki.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said earlier that his party could go beyond the revised infrastructure-spending offer it released Thursday morning.
“We’re open to spending some more,” McConnell said on MSNBC Thursday. Asked whether the submission by a group of GOP senators earlier in the day was a final offer, he said, “No, we’re going to keep talking.”
The Republican offer—unveiled Thursday morning by Capito, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Roy Blunt of Missouri—totals $928 billion over eight years, but most of that was funding Congress was expected to enact anyway.
Republicans are betting Biden will still try to seal a bipartisan deal on traditional infrastructure items, such as roads and bridges, before moving on to a broader spending and tax-hike plan that features ramped-up spending on social programs. But the latest limited offer could escalate pressure from congressional Democrats to ditch the talks and focus on the go-it-alone strategy.
“It’s getting close to pulling the plug time,” for the talks, said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “That is a very modest offer.”
The Republican release listed net new spending of at least $257 billion:
- $91 billion for roads and bridges
- $48 billion for water infrastructure
- $25 billion for airports
- $65 billion for broadband
- $22 billion for freight and passenger rail
- $6 billion for water storage in the West
Republicans argue that their proposal would be the largest physical infrastructure bill ever enacted and that the gap with Biden is smaller if unrelated social spending on elder care and other items are removed.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said in an interview, “My guess is it is easier to get 15 to 20 Republicans on a true infrastructure package than it is to get the last three Democrats on a bill that can include anything.”
In the 50-50 Senate, Biden would need the entire Democratic caucus behind any spending plan that uses the fast-track budget reconciliation method that was used for the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill in March. Durbin said earlier this week he didn’t yet know if Democrats have the votes to proceed via reconciliation.
Psaki said that the White House’s objective will be to work with lawmakers next week “so that there is a clear direction on how to advance much-needed jobs legislation when Congress resumes legislative business during the week of June 7.”
Last Friday, the Biden administration reduced its proposal to $1.7 trillion from an initial $2.25 trillion, by lowering spending on roads, bridges and broadband and removing items, including investments in manufacturing, for inclusion in separate legislation.
Psaki in Thursday’s statement said the White House had issues with the GOP plan, given “no substantial new funds for critical job-creating needs, such as fixing our veterans’ hospitals, building modern rail systems, repairing our transit systems, removing dangerous lead pipes, and powering America’s leadership in a job-creating clean energy economy, among other things.”
The two sides have been defining the size of the package differently, with Republicans including money already expected to be in the pipeline, such as baseline spending on regularly scheduled infrastructure maintenance.
Blunt said that excluding baseline spending from outlays to improve infrastructure “is not the way to look at this.”
“This is what people at home in Wyoming think of when we talk about infrastructure: Potholes that need to be fixed,” Barrasso said Thursday, urging support for the GOP approach. “This avoids the big threat to our economy: inflation.”
The GOP senators characterized their initial offer as $568 billion, while the White House pegged the amount of new spending in that proposal at a much lower $175 billion. Republicans pitched another version last week, though didn’t publicly specify its size. They propose to pay for the spending in part by rescinding Covid relief funds enacted in March, a non-starter for Democrats.
Blunt said Thursday that Republicans could be open to additional funding measures, including creating an infrastructure bank to encourage public private partnerships.
“There are other things that we are willing to put on the table,” he said.