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White House Appears Intrigued by GOP Infrastructure Proposal

May 27, 2021 by Dan McCue
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito speaks at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 27, 2021, as from left, Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Sen. Barrasso, R-Wy. and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., look on.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON – The dance, as they say, was on Thursday as the White House signaled its interest in a new, $928 billion infrastructure proposal outlined by Senate Republicans.

The counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s more sweeping, $1.7 trillion plan, is more generous than the Republicans’ last offer, adding about $91 billion for roads and bridges, $48 billion for water resources, and another $25 billion for airports.

The new offer would also bump up broadband investments by $65 billion and money for rail by an additional $22 billion.

“It’s a serious effort to try to reach a bipartisan agreement,”  said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the lead GOP negotiator.

The White House seemed to agree.

“At first review, we note several constructive additions to the group’s previous proposals, including on roads, bridges and rail,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday.

“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, among other things,” Psaki added.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“Lastly, we are concerned that the proposal on how to pay for the plan remains unclear: we are worried that major cuts in COVID relief funds 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,” she said.

At a morning news conference, Sens. Capito, Pat Toomey, R-Pa., John Barrasso, R-Wy. and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said their offer delivers on “core infrastructure investments” that Biden has touted as areas of potential bipartisan agreement.

However, the lawmakers continue to reject the president’s proposed corporate tax increase to pay for new investments, insteading wanting to shift unspent COVID-19 relief dollars to help cover the costs.

Toomey told reporters Thursday that there is $700 billion in unspent COVID-19 aid from the American Rescue Plan — the administration’s $1.9 trillion response to the coronavirus crisis earlier this year.

Toomey suggested some of that money could fill the gap between the amount of revenue normally collected from transportation taxes and fees, and the new spending the GOP senators are proposing.

But he said the Republican negotiators have made it “very, very clear every single time we’ve had a discussion that we’re not raising taxes.”

Talks are now at something of a crossroads before a Memorial Day deadline to make progress toward a bipartisan deal. 

Though Biden has said repeatedly that he wants and expects there to be bipartisan agreement on an infrastructure plan, staffers in the West Wing are said to be assessing whether the president can strike some kind of deal with Republicans or whether he will try to go it alone with Democrats if no progress is made in the coming days.

Core differences remain over a number of provisions of the plan, not least of all is the definition of infrastructure. 

Republicans stick to traditional investments in roads, bridges, ports and water drinking systems, while the White House takes a more expansive view.

Barrasso said the Republicans’ proposal reflects “what people at home in Wyoming think of is infrastructure – roads with potholes.”

As for the road forward, Psaki said the president called Capito Thursday to thank her for the proposal, and to tell her that he would follow-up after getting additional details. 

“We are also continuing to explore other proposals that we hope will emerge,” she said. 

“Though there are no votes in Congress next week, we will work actively with members of the House and Senate next week, so that there is a clear direction on how to advance much needed jobs legislation when Congress resumes legislative business during the week of June 7.”

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