GOP senators pitch new $928 billion infrastructure plan in latest offer to Biden
WASHINGTON – A nearly $1 trillion transportation bill GOP senators unveiled Thursday is a significant increase from an earlier Republican proposal but doesn't include the social infrastructure or corporate tax increase President Joe Biden wants.
The plan relies heavily on unspent COVID-19 relief money intended for states and cities and remains far short of Biden's $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan.
The Republican proposal is the latest in a weekslong back-and-forth between GOP moderates led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and the Biden administration, who are hustling to finalize a deal by July 4.
The eight-year plan would amount to $928 billion and includes money for roads, bridges, transit, rail systems, waterways, airports, seaports and broadband. The Republican plan also includes $4 billion for new electric vehicle charging stations, a priority of the Biden administration.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the president is "certainly encouraged" by the increased funding, saying the GOP plan included "several constructive additions to the group’s previous proposals, including on roads, bridges and rail."
"At the same time, we remain concerned that their plan still provides 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," Psaki said in a statement.
She also said that the GOP plan to pay for the bill remains "unclear" and that any attempt to raid COVID-19 relief money "could imperil pending aid to small businesses, restaurants and rural hospitals using this money to get back on their feet after the crush of the pandemic." Psaki said 95% of COVID-19 relief funds are already allocated.
Before boarding Air Force One to travel to Cleveland, where he will give a speech on the economy, Biden told reporters he talked to Capito on Thursday and planned to meet with her again next week.
“We’re going to have to close this down soon,” said Biden, who set Memorial Day as a benchmark to show progress on a package with a goal of passing legislation this summer. The White House is now circling the week of June 7, when Congress returns, to produce a "clear direction" on a bipartisan package.
Capito told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday that she believes the latest proposal represents what Biden told Republican senators in recent White House talks he would accept.
"And that is to try to reach somewhere near $1 trillion over an eight-year period of time," she said. "We have achieved that goal with this counteroffer."
While the price tag for the GOP proposal is substantially higher than the roughly $600 billion Republicans were supporting, it's still far below Biden's trimmed-down $1.7 trillion plan, which cut $550 billion out of his original $2.3 trillion pitch.
The GOP bill includes using unspent money from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in March. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said repurposing that money would avoid corporate tax increases Biden has proposed and keep former President Donald Trump's 2017 tax cuts intact.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said raising taxes is a nonstarter.
"We believe that the 2017 tax reform contributed significantly to enabling us to achieve the best economy in my lifetime. And that's no small thing," he said in Thursday's news conference. "We're not interested in undoing the provisions in the tax reform bill that allowed us to get here."
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key moderate Democrat who has expressed skepticism about the size and scope of Biden's infrastructure plans, said Thursday that he was encouraged by the Republicans' offer.
"The proposal they put out today was very, very good," he told reporters. "I think this is a wonderful step in the right direction. I applaud Sen. Capito and the team that's all been working together. She's getting input from everybody."
But Democrats have balked at dipping into money intended to help states and local governments recover from the pandemic.
And Karine Jean-Pierre, White House principal deputy press secretary, on Wednesday shot down the idea of using money approved for COVID-19 relief.
"There are simply not hundreds of billions of dollars in COVID relief funds available to repurpose," she said.
Republican senators had initially proposed a $568 billion bill last month that focused solely on traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges, aviation, waterways and transit.
The $1 trillion bill released Thursday would allocate:
- $506 billion for roads, bridges and "major projects"
- $98 billion for transit
- $72 billion for water infrastructure
- $65 billion for broadband
- $56 billion for airports
- $46 billion for freight and passenger rail
- $22 billion for ports and waterways
- $22 billion for Western water storage
- $21 billion for safety programs
- $20 billion for infrastructure financing
With the two sides still far apart, some Democrats say the time is nearing for Biden to try to pass an infrastructure package without Republican support through a legislative maneuver called reconciliation.
Biden and Democrats could seek to pass the American Jobs Plan in the evenly divided Senate using budget reconciliation, a process subject to certain rules but that would allow Democrats to approve a bill with a simple 51-vote majority without any Republican support. Otherwise, Democrats would need the backing of at least 10 Republicans to overcome a legislative hurdle called a filibuster to bring the plan to a vote.
"We're getting down to decision time," Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday. "We can't put this (off) indefinitely.
"We just have to decide whether bipartisanship is going to work and be honest if it isn't," Durbin said, adding he would be "reluctant" to agree to anything lower than Biden's $1.7 trillion offer on the table.
In his $1.7 trillion counteroffer, Biden proposed minor concessions to remove funding for research and development, supply chains, manufacturing and small businesses. It would also reduce $100 billion for broadband expansion to $65 billion, matching what Republicans have proposed, and cut funds for roads and bridges.
Yet the trimmed-down plan would still keep corporate tax increases that Republicans have said they won't support under any circumstances. It would also fund home caregiving for elderly and disabled people, electric vehicle expansion and other "social infrastructure" components that Republicans oppose. Republicans have said they support spending only on physical infrastructure such as roadways, bridges, ports, airports and broadband internet access.