Biden, Capito to Meet as Infrastructure Deadline Looms

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito speaks at the Capitol as Sen. Barrasso (R-Wy., left). and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) look on. (J. Scott Applewhite/Bloomberg News)

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is set to meet June 2 with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican negotiator on infrastructure as the administration signals time is running out to strike a bipartisan deal on the White House’s big investment proposal and top legislative priority.

The president is looking forward to hosting Capito, a White House official said, speaking ahead of the 2:45 p.m. EDT afternoon session on condition of anonymity. The official said the two will continue bipartisan negotiations. The administration’s deadline for a deal is June 7.

“He’s appreciative and heartened by the good faith effort that we’ve seen from Republican senators but as the president said last week we do need to finish these negotiations soon,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters June 1 traveling with the president on Air Force One to Tulsa, Okla., where he is scheduled to deliver remarks to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

In the latest round of talks, Biden and a core group of GOP senators appear to have pulled farther apart as they try to narrow the gap between the president’s more sweeping initial ideas for a massive investment and a GOP approach that is a more focused effort on traditional infrastructure projects.

Biden’s own thinking is that the Republican proposal, now $928 billion, is unworkable because the Republicans want to tap unspent COVID-19 funds to pay for the spending.

The White House has pared back the president’s initial $2.3 trillion bid, now tallied at $1.7 trillion, with Biden proposing to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to pay for it.

“I think we can get to real compromise, absolutely, because we’re both still in the game,” Capito said over the weekend. “I think the president told me himself that let’s get this done.”

Congress is away for a weeklong Memorial Day break, but faces a deadline when lawmakers return next week.

Without a bipartisan agreement, Biden will be faced with trying to muscle support from Democrats alone. That approach also poses political challenges in the narrowly divided House and Senate where the administration has few votes to spare if the president tries to push the package to passage under budget rules that allow for a majority vote.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on May 30 by the time Congress resumes June 7, “we need a clear direction.”

Buttigieg said, “The president keeps saying inaction is not an option. And time is not unlimited here.” He said the American people “expect us to do something.”

The White House said the president is also eyeing action in the House that week when the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to begin debating a big highway reauthorization bill that is being closely watched as a potential building block toward the broader package.

Jean-Pierre noted the panel’s June 9 hearing as “a relevant date in terms of the overall time frame.”

That week, she said, “will be incredibly critical.”

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

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