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May 27, 2021 1:00 PM, EDT

Biden to Meet GOP Next Week on Infrastructure After Latest Offer

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with media before boarding Marine One on May 25. (Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg News)U.S. President Joe Biden speaks with media before boarding Marine One on May 25. (Tasos Katopodis/Bloomberg News)

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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 that still left them 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 May 27 with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who’s been leading the Republican counterproposals, 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.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said earlier that his party could go beyond the revised infrastructure-spending offer it released the morning of May 27.

“We’re open to spending some more,” McConnell said on MSNBC May 27. 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 May 27 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.

Pulling Plug

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

“This is a serious effort to reach a bipartisan agreement,” Capito told reporters May 27. “We are hoping this moves the ball forward.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boards the Senate Subway on May 26. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boards the Senate Subway on May 26. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)

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.

Blunt 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.

On May 21, 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. Democrats are hoping the latest proposal will help improve chances for a deal on a major Biden initiative before the fast-approaching Memorial Day weekend.

Not ‘Serious’

“I don’t really think this is a serious counteroffer,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on MSNBC of the latest GOP plan, underscoring progressives’ opposition to trying to strike a deal with Republicans.

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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 May 27, urging support for the GOP approach. “This avoids the big threat to our economy: inflation.”

Counting Methods

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 by rescinding COVID relief funds enacted in March, likely a non-starter for Democrats.

Blunt said May 27 that Republicans could be open to additional pay-fors, 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.

Congressional Democrats remain prepared to proceed without Republicans via the fast-track budget reconciliation tool they used for the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill in March.

“We hope to move forward with Republicans” on infrastructure, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said May 25. At the same time, Schumer said the Democrats wouldn’t let the GOP “stand in our way.” He said the plan, one way or another, is “to move forward in July.”

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new proposal.

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