WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., on Wednesday to continue negotiations about an infrastructure package as administration officials signal time is running out on trying to reach a bipartisan deal.
"The president is looking forward to hosting Senator Capito on Wednesday afternoon at the White House,” a White House official said Tuesday, adding that the bipartisan negotiations are “about investing in our middle class and economic growth through infrastructure.”
Their one-on-one meeting comes after Senate Republicans last week offered a nearly $1 trillion counterproposal to the White House’s updated outline for an infrastructure plan. The GOP’s new measure would include $257 billion in new spending — more than the Republicans’ earlier proposal. But that's still much less than Biden's latest $1.7 trillion proposal.
Not only are the two sides far apart on the price tag, but there is also no agreement over how to pay for it. Capito's plan would fund much of their plan by repurposing unused Covid-19 relief money, something the White House quickly resisted last week. The White House wants to pay for the bill with a tax increase on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, something Republicans say they are unwilling to support.
Administration officials have indicated time is running out to get a deal with Republicans before Democrats will opt to take a purely partisan route. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Sunday and said that the White House is "getting pretty close to a fish or cut bait moment."
“We believe in this process, but also very much agree that this can't go on forever. The American people want results,” Buttigieg said.
Congress is on recess this week, but senators will return next week. White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday that the White House wants there to be "clear direction on how to advance" the bill by next week, citing a House committee hearing on a transportation funding bill June 9.
"This week will be incredibly critical as we've mentioned,” Jean-Pierre said.
Capito and other Republicans involved in infrastructure negotiations said that their bill delivers what Biden has called for. Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, were sour about the GOP plan, with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., suggesting that Democrats might have to pass their own legislation without Republican support using the special budget reconciliation process.
On Fox News Sunday, Capito said that staffers involved in the talks are “smoothing” out the edges as they go back and forth with the White House over the details. Capito said she believes they could reach an agreement.
“I think we can get to real compromise, absolutely, because we're both still in the game," she said. "We realize this is not easy."
The White House could try to reach a small deal with Republicans focused on more traditional brick-and-mortar infrastructure spending and then try to pass a larger package, like funding for elder care and public housing, with only Democratic support.