President Joe Biden says he wants to deal with the GOP on infrastructure, and Republicans have a much stronger hand than during the coronavirus spending package negotiations.
Biden has finished outlining the broad brushstrokes of his big-government vision, staggering the release of his sweeping infrastructure-plus-jobs and social welfare plans. Combined, they are estimated to cost $4 trillion.
But with narrow control of the House, an evenly divided Senate, and only so many opportunities to fall back on a fast-track legislative process that permits him to pass bills while bypassing the GOP, Republicans hold more bargaining power if Biden hopes to sign any of his proposals into law after his $1.9 trillion coronavirus package.
According to political analyst Dan Schnur, a Republican-turned-independent now at the University of Southern California, having a big agenda but a small majority is a challenge for Biden and an opening for Republicans.
“The best way to pull this off may be with a smaller infrastructure package that can attract Republicans and a large social services package that can keep Democrats in line,” Schnur told the Washington Examiner. “But it's a pretty narrow line to walk.”
To that end, Biden gave lip service during his address to a joint session of Congress to Senate Republicans who counteroffered his $2.3 trillion, 10-year infrastructure-plus plan with a more defined $568 billion proposal.
“Investments in jobs and infrastructure, like the ones we're talking about, have often had bipartisan support in the past,” Biden said.
Biden's infrastructure plan only proposes $621 billion for transportation and resilience projects. And $174 billion of that amount has been earmarked for the electric vehicle industry, despite private sector leadership from companies such as Tesla.
Another $111 billion has been proposed for water and $100 billion for broadband improvements.
In contrast, Republicans have counteroffered with a $568 billion plan that spends $299 billion on roads and bridges, $61 billion on public transit, $20 billion on rail, $65 billion on broadband, and $35 billion on drinking water and wastewater. The total package proposed by Republicans is more significant than what House Democrats proposed in the summer of 2020.
Press secretary Jen Psaki has previewed more bipartisan Oval Office meetings between Biden and lawmakers during the first week of May after the Senate considers a separate water bill. Her impression of the discussions was that the two sides were “sharing ideas.”
“We are certainly taking a look at the proposal,” she said. “Right now, there's deep-in-the-weeds, sometimes nerdy conversations between staffers, members of Congress. We have lots of follow-up questions. I'm sure they have lots of follow-up questions.”
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo did seem less confident that an agreement could be reached, mere weeks after telling reporters the White House wanted to “compromise.”
“Six hundred billion dollars is not what the country needs. The country needs $2 trillion,” Raimondo said in an interview. “It's not nearly enough.”
But Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's offer is not that different from the $494 billion five-year transportation bill proposed by House Democrats last summer. That measure provided $319 billion for roads and bridges, $105 billion for public transit, and $60 billion for rail. The bill was later folded into the $1.5 trillion House-approved Moving Forward Act, which the Republican-controlled Senate and White House blocked because it was “full of wasteful Green New Deal initiatives.”
This time around, Democrats face intraparty criticism from the likes of Capito's West Virginia colleague, Sen. Joe Manchin. Manchin, an influential swing vote in the Senate, conceded after Biden's first presidential report to Congress that he was “most certainly” concerned about the cost of Biden's plans, his proposed tax increases, and the risk of governmental overreach. Manchin had already dismissed Biden's idea to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to pay for his infrastructure plan, suggesting 25% instead.
“The bottom line is, this place has got to have a chance to work,” he said in an interview of growing Democratic reliance on the reconciliation process.
The White House has so far indicated it would prefer to partner with Republicans on infrastructure. However, it adopted a similar position before muscling the coronavirus package through Congress without the GOP.
“We do think the process will be different. There's more time to move forward. There's more time to discuss and negotiate. And we'll take advantage of that time available,” Psaki said.
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