Biden Sends Republicans New Infrastructure Offer, but a Gulf Remains

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration sent Senate Republicans on Friday an offer for a bipartisan infrastructure deal that cut off more than $ 500 billion from the president’s original proposal. A move that White House officials hoped would fuel talks but Republicans were quick to reject.

The lack of progress encouraged Liberals in Congress to re-urge Mr Biden to abandon his hopes of compromise with a Republican conference that has labeled his $ 4 trillion economic agenda too expensive and undirected. Instead, they urged the president to begin an attempt to postpone his party line plans through the same process that spawned his economic incentive legislation earlier this year.

Mr Biden has repeatedly said that he wants to postpone his infrastructure plans with bipartisan support, which the main centrist Democrats in the Senate have also called for. But the president has insisted that Republicans spend far more than they say they are ready to spend.

He also says the bill must include a broad definition of “infrastructure” that includes investments in combating climate change and providing home health care that Republicans have termed overly expansive.

The sides stay wide apart. Mr Biden’s most recent offer includes spending of $ 1.7 trillion, a decrease of more than $ 500 billion from its original proposal. It includes building or repairing roads, bridges, water pipes, broadband Internet, the electrical grid, and a national network of EV charging stations, as well as investing in home care for the elderly and disabled.

The Republicans have countered with a $ 568 billion plan, though many Democrats consider that offer to be even smaller as it includes expanding some federal infrastructure spending to expected levels. In a memo to Republicans received by the New York Times on Friday, Biden administration officials rated the Republicans’ offer as no more than $ 225 billion, “above current levels that Congress has traditionally funded “.

The President’s new offer makes no effort to resolve the even more difficult problem that divides the parties: how to pay for these expenses. Mr Biden wants to levy taxes on companies that Republicans speak out against. Republicans want to use money from Mr Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion economic aid package, signed in March, for other purposes, including levying usage fees such as the president’s rejected gas tax.

Mr. Biden “fundamentally contradicts the approach of increasing the burden on working people through increased gas taxes and usage charges,” administrative officials wrote in their memo to Republican negotiators. “As you know, he has made a commitment to the American people not to levy taxes on those who earn less than $ 400,000 a year, and he intends to honor that commitment.”

Still, the new proposal shows some movement from the White House. It cuts out an important provision of Mr. Biden’s “American Jobs Plan”: hundreds of billions of dollars in advanced manufacturing, research and development efforts to enable the United States to work with China for supremacy in emerging industries such as advanced batteries to compete. Legislature has incorporated some, but not all, of the government’s proposals in these areas into non-partisan law currently going through the Senate.

Mr Biden’s counter offer would also reduce the amount he would like to spend on broadband internet as well as on highways and other road projects. He would essentially take on the Republicans’ $ 65 billion broadband offer of $ 100 billion and cut his highway spending plans by $ 40 billion to meet them halfway through. And what is known as an infrastructure bank would emerge, trying to leverage private infrastructure investments with public seed capital – and which the Republicans have been pushing for.

Updated

May 21, 2021, 6:50 p.m. ET

Republican senators, who were introduced to the offer on a conference call with administration officials on Friday, expressed disappointment despite vowing to continue the talks.

“During today’s call, the White House came back with a counteroffer that is well beyond what Congress can pass with bipartisan support,” said Kelley Moore, a spokeswoman for West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito who oversees the Republican negotiations leads group.

“There are still big differences between White House Republicans and Senate Republicans when it comes to defining infrastructure, proposed spending and how they are paid,” Ms. Moore said. “After today’s meeting, the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they did after meeting President Biden.”

The White House’s updated offer was also immediately pushed back by the progressives, showing the extent to which the forces opposed to a deal are bipartisan. Senator Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, urged his party not to waste time haggling with Republicans over details that do not share their vision for what the country needs.

“A smaller infrastructure package means fewer jobs, less justice, less climate change and less investment in America’s future,” Markey said in a press release.

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have been skeptical of the talks, fearing that Republicans will waste precious time on the legislative calendar and ultimately refuse to agree to a deal big enough to please Liberals. While giving the White House Senator and Republicans leeway to pursue an alternative, party leaders are increasingly under pressure from progressives to unilaterally pass a bill through the Senate budget reconciliation.

They have taken quiet steps to make this possible in case the conversations break down. Advisors to Senators Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, and Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont and chairman of the Budget Committee, met with the Senate MP on Thursday to discuss options for a Republican-free trial under the rules.

Biden administration officials were frustrated that Republicans failed to approach the president in a new offer they made in negotiations on Capitol Hill this week. They made it clear to Republicans on Friday that they expect a significant move in the next counteroffer and that the negotiating timetable is getting shorter and shorter, said a person familiar with the discussions.

The administration could soon negotiate with several groups of senators. Another bipartisan group plans to meet on Monday evening to discuss the amount of expenses and proposals for their payment. Members of the group – including Mitt Romney from Utah, Susan Collins from Maine, Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Rob Portman from Ohio, all Republicans as well as Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona and Joe Manchin III from West Virginia, both Democrats – helped draft a non-partisan coronavirus Aid law in December.

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