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White House, Republicans remain far apart on infrastructure

White House proposes $1.7 trillion counteroffer; Republicans say they see more room for cuts

Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has said she’d like to reach a broad agreement on the package before Memorial Day.
Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has said she’d like to reach a broad agreement on the package before Memorial Day. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The White House on Friday lowered its original $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal by roughly $500 billion, calling it an effort to attract bipartisan support. Republican lawmakers said the parties remain far apart.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the White House, in its third meeting with GOP senators, “put forward a reasonable counteroffer that reduces the size of the package from $2.25 trillion in additional investment to $1.7 trillion.”

“In our view, this is the act, the art I should say, of seeking common ground,” she said.

Psaki said the new proposal reduced funding for broadband to match the Republican offer and reduced the proposed investment in roads, bridges and major projects to come closer to the number proposed by the GOP senators.

The counteroffer comes as Democrats are urging Biden to move forward on the package without GOP support.

“The counteroffer also reflects our view that the Republican offer excludes entirely some proposals that are key to our competitiveness, key to investments in clean energy and in industries of the future and rebuilding our workforce, including critical investments in our power sector, building and construction, workforce training, veterans hospital, construction, and the care economy,” she said. Some of the provisions removed from the president’s infrastructure proposal, she noted, are already in the mix for the competitiveness bill pending on the Senate floor.

Republicans said they see room for more cuts.

“There continue to be vast differences between the White House and Senate Republicans when it comes to the definition of infrastructure, the magnitude of proposed spending, and how to pay for it,” a spokesman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a statement after Friday’s talks.

‘Further apart’

“Based on today’s meeting,” the statement continued. “the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden. Senate Republicans will further review the details in today’s counteroffer and continue to engage in conversations with the administration.”

The White House said in a memo to Capito it would remove the $180 billion research and development provision, which is addressed in the competitiveness bill, as well as reduce the broadband investment from $100 billion to $65 billion and reduce the highway funding from $159 billion to $120 billion, which is $72 billion more than the $48 billion in new spending proposed by Senate Republicans.

The White House counteroffer also expressed support for an infrastructure financing facility pushed by the Senate GOP.

But the memo said the White House remained “concerned” that the GOP counteroffer did not include power sector investments, environmental remediation investments, building and construction investments and tax credits, VA hospital construction and modernization, workforce development and investments in “care infrastructure” for senior citizens.

“Because the President is taking off the table for purposes of these negotiations a significant category of investment that you have argued is not infrastructure, he believes fairness dictates that you consider investments in areas that he believes are vital but are not currently in your Roadmap,” the memo read. “Specifically, he believes investing in our nation’s care infrastructure is essential to support our seniors and help our parents, particularly women, get back to work.”

Biden’s plan called for Congress to put $400 billion toward expanding access to quality, affordable home- or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities.

The memo also criticized the GOP proposal as lacking adequate spending to develop an electric vehicle market, eliminate lead pipes and service lines, or build resilient infrastructure.

And, it said, Biden “fundamentally disagrees with the approach of increasing the burden on working people through increased gas taxes and user fees, regardless of where users live or the type of vehicles they drive.”

“Our approach should ensure that corporations are paying their fair share,” it read.

The 1 p.m. virtual meeting featured a group led by Capito, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and was the third between Senate Republicans and the White House in the last two weeks. Capito has said she’d like to reach a broad agreement on the package before Memorial Day.

Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi also participated in the meeting.

The administration was represented by Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti, White House Director of Legislative affairs Louisa Terrell, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The meeting was a follow-up to one on Tuesday in Capito’s office where Senate Republicans presented a counteroffer to their original $568 billion framework. The new offer included some different numbers and was “more granular on pay-fors,” Capito said in an interview Thursday. She declined to discuss the topline number of their counteroffer.

Highway bill

Even as Senate Republicans work to make a deal with the White House, Capito is working with Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., on a highway bill, with the goal of marking it up as soon as next week.

Regardless of what happens with Biden’s broader plan, the surface transportation legislation is considered a must-pass bill; the current highway law, a one-year extension of the 2015 law, expires Sept. 30. Such a bill, Capito said, would be an “anchor” for a larger infrastructure package.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reiterated Thursday that the committee will mark up its version of a surface transportation bill “soon.” He did not set a date or offer a timeline, other than to say a draft of the bill will be released two days before the markup.

Niels Lesniewski, Lindsey McPherson and Joseph Morton contributed to this report.