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President Joe Biden’s prospects for passing a major infrastructure bill through Congress with bipartisan support — seen unlikely in the wake of his Democrat-only pandemic-relief package in March — are now rising, though disagreements over funding still could scrap a deal.
Senate Republicans are set to deliver a revised offer of a package that includes roads, public transportation and airports to the White House as early as May 17.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Biden enshrined the aspiration of restoring bipartisanship to American governance. The newfound opening, however, clouds the outlook for the rest of his economic vision: a sweeping expansion of the federal government in providing support to millions of lower-income Americans, financed by higher taxes on companies and the wealthy.
Progressives have warned about the danger of undermining Democratic unity for that element of Biden’s $4 trillion agenda if infrastructure is stripped out.
The dual-track strategy could allow Biden to say he lived up to promises to work with Republicans, and it would give centrist, swing-district lawmakers in his party the bipartisan achievement they crave with the approach of the 2022 midterm elections. Biden is banking on grateful moderates being willing to vote for the rest of his plan in a Democrat-only budget process this fall.
For Republicans, a deal would let them benefit from supporting the overwhelmingly popular road, bridge, airport and broadband projects — and free them to attack spending on child care, elder care and education as wasteful and paid for by damaging tax increases.
The risk for Democrats is those attacks in turn could persuade enough moderate Democrats to stall the rest of the Biden plan in Congress — all the more so if economic data fuel emerging consumer concerns about inflation.
For infrastructure, the next step is for key Senate Republicans, led by West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, to deliver a revised plan to the president. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said May 14 Biden expects to receive it no later than May 18.
Capito’s group previously outlined a $568 billion, five-year plan focused on what it regards as “traditional” infrastructure. It had $299 billion for roads and bridges along with $44 billion for airports. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the GOP could support a package of as much as $800 billion.
Biden’s plan had $2.25 trillion of spending over eight years, with much more for rail and water, along with money for electric vehicles, housing and elder care the GOP left out.
Neither side has yet spelled out which specific bridges, airports and other projects would feature in a final bill. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are working on detailed legislative language.
The GOP has yet to spell out its proposed funding measures. The White House has opposed user fees as regressive, while Republicans have ruled out rolling back former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts.
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