Republicans offer infrastructure counter well short of Biden vision

By | May 27, 2021

Senate Republicans unveiled a $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer Thursday, in an effort to reach a bipartisan agreement with the White House.

The proposal comes as talks are set to go past the Biden administration’s unofficial deadline of Memorial Day. But the latest GOP offer only includes $257 billion in new spending, a far cry from the White House number of $1.7 trillion.

“We believe this counteroffer delivers on what President Biden told us in the Oval office that day and that is to try to reach somewhere near $1 trillion over an eight year period that would include our baseline spending,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) the top GOP negotiator. “We have achieved that goal with this counteroffer.”

The new GOP proposal, which was detailed in a memo sent to the White House, allocates $506 billion for roads and bridges, $98 billion for public transit systems, $46 billion for passenger and freight trail, $21 billion for safety, $22 billion for ports and waterways, $56 billion for airports, among other features.

While the counteroffer will likely prolong discussions with the White House, the Biden administration and Senate Republicans remain far apart on several issues, including the total cost, the definition of infrastructure, and how to pay for it.

Senate Democrats are already scoffing at the GOP counteroffer. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) described it as a “non-starter” on CNN.

“We’ll see what the president and his team do when they evaluate it and we’ll see what other senators say,” Casey said. “But, look, I think we’re getting to the point where it’s obvious now, and I’ve been very patient. I think a lot of Democrats have been. The president is patient.”

Republicans argue that the offer with the White House isn’t as far apart as Democrats are suggesting, when it comes to the definition of physical infrastructure.

“I think the gaps are much less,” Capito said. “The important thing here is that the president’s desire and our desire to do something together that’s traditionally been handled by the Congress and the White House for years together.”

How to pay for the bill remains a substantial obstacle to getting a bipartisan agreement. The White House has suggested paying for the package by increasing the corporate tax rate, a non-starter for the GOP. Republicans have instead suggested user fees and using unused money allocated for coronavirus relief, arguing that there is a precedent for doing so. Democrats have rejected those suggestions.

“There’s a lot of Covid specific money,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “Better to use that money for something that we all want to do than have it sit around there for somebody else’s pet project at some time in the future.”

The new GOP counteroffer comes after White House officials presented Senate Republicans with a new proposal last week. But Republicans said after the virtual meeting that both sides were only getting further apart. Privately, members of both parties are anticipating that Democrats will end up using the so-called reconciliation process that would allow them to pass the package along party lines.

In the GOP memo to the White House, the Republican senators said their proposal met the parameters Biden laid out in a recent Oval Office meeting with him and warned that “proceeding with reconciliation would undermine the good work we have done, and can continue to do, in a bipartisan manner.”