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Bipartisan House caucus offers alternative infrastructure plan after Senate GOP talks collapse

Problem Solvers Caucus's $1.25 trillion plan hews closer to Biden's baseline, but offers less for broadband and wastewater

The 58-member bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus has put together a $1.25 trillion infrastructure spending framework, including $761.8 billion in new spending over eight years, to help salvage faltering bipartisan negotiations.

The caucus’s proposal comes as President Joe Biden ended his negotiations with a group of Senate Republicans led by West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito. That Senate GOP group had offered a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan, roughly a third of which was new spending above the “baseline” amount the government would normally spend to sustain current infrastructure.

Biden initially proposed a more than $2 trillion plan, which Republicans said went far beyond their definition of core, physical infrastructure. In negotiations with Capito’s group, the president was willing to go as low as $1 trillion, but he wanted that to be all new spending — although Republicans said Biden told them the $1 trillion could include baseline spending before his staff walked that back.

[After infrastructure talks collapse, two options for Biden]

The Problem Solvers Caucus framework gets much closer to Biden’s demand on new spending. And unlike the offer from Capito’s group, it has buy-in from congressional Democrats. However, the bipartisan caucus has not yet included any provisions to offset the cost of its proposal.

The caucus’s framework includes $518 billion for highways, roads and safety; $64 billion for bridges; $155 billion for transit; $120 billion for Amtrak and passenger rail; $41 billion for airports; $26 billion for waters and ports; and $25 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.

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The transit, passenger rail and electric vehicle funding is significantly higher than in the Capito group’s plan.

The Problem Solvers framework, however, includes less money for broadband internet access — $45 billion, compared to $65 billion in the last public offer Capito’s group made. It also includes less money for drinking and wastewater — $60 billion, compared to Capito’s $72 billion.

The caucus also proposes funding for several areas that weren’t part of the Senate Republican plan, including $25 billion for connecting green energy sources to the electric grid, $10 billion for nuclear energy, $5 billion for hydrogen hubs, $5 billion for carbon capture and storage, $5 billion for direct air capture and $10 billion for veterans’ housing.

Bipartisan urgency

The Problem Solvers Caucus, which has 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, has been working for the past two months to reach agreement on the scope of a bipartisan infrastructure package. Its infrastructure working group, led by Reps. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., and John Katko, R-N.Y., put together the framework with input from the broader caucus.

“Developed with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, this framework contains truly bipartisan policies that can form the basis for a comprehensive package to modernize our nation’s infrastructure systems,” Katko said in a statement.

Lamb emphasized the urgency of getting a bipartisan deal to ensure that infrastructure projects involving “bridges, locks, dams, power lines, and vehicle chargers will get started and finished no matter who is in power.”

The co-chairs of the full caucus, Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., have been separately engaged in talks with a bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.

That group of senators have not yet signed on to the Problem Solvers Caucus framework, but the bicameral group’s proposed spending numbers could end up being similar to the Problem Solvers framework, given Gottheimer and Fitzpatrick’s involvement. Pay-fors are being negotiated in the bicameral group. It’s unclear if the Problem Solvers would release any offsets separate from that.

“It’s critically important that we get a robust infrastructure package signed into law, and that we do it with strong bipartisan support,” Gottheimer said in a statement. “The Problem Solvers Caucus framework — Building Bridges — does exactly that and tackles everything from electric vehicles to clean water to fixing our crumbling bridges, tunnels, roads, and rail.”

Fitzpatrick added: “The time is now for Congress and the Administration to reach across the aisle, unite, and boost investments in our surface transportation network that will move our transportation systems into the 21st century.”

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