WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday signaled they would be willing to support $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, the latest counteroffer to President Joe Biden sweeping proposal to rebuild the nation’s roads, bridges and transit systems.
The new GOP plan would includes $257 billion in new spending — more than the Republicans’ earlier proposal — and would fund much of the rest by repurposing unused Covid-19 relief money. That's far from Biden's $1.7 trillion in new spending.
The $928 billion package, negotiated by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would allocate more than $500 billion to rebuild roads and bridges, $98 billion for public transit systems, $72 billion for water infrastructure and $56 billion for airports.
“We're hoping that this moves the ball forward,” Capito said at a Thursday morning press conference flanked by some of her GOP colleagues. “We believe that the alternative, which is a partisan reconciliation process, would be destructive to our future bipartisan attempts.”
Capito and other Republicans involved in infrastructure negotiations said that their bill delivers what Biden called for when they met together recently in the Oval Office.
But Democrats were unimpressed.
“A so-called infrastructure proposal that does nothing to move toward a clean-energy future is not a serious proposal,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Finance Committee. “It’s been 12 years since Democrats last had a real opportunity to pass climate legislation. And if Republicans aren’t serious, we can’t afford to wait another 12 years. We need to keep moving forward.”
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats are getting closer to going it alone if the negotiations don't bear fruit.
“It's getting close to pulling the plug time,” he told reporters.
The GOP counterproposal came after the White House sent an updated plan to Republicans last Friday that lowered Biden’s original cost from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion. A spokesperson for Capito, however, said in a readout of a meeting with Biden administration officials that day that there still were "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."
While unveiling the new counterproposal Thursday, Capito said that the gaps with the White House are now “much less.”
“This proposal is fully paid for, does not need to have any raises in taxes and avoids the big threat to the economy right now which is inflation. Inflation is the No. 1 threat to our nation right now in our economy,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said.
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday on CNBC that it was not necessarily the GOP's final offer.
“No, we’re going to keep talking,” the Kentucky Republican said.
Biden said later Thursday that he hadn’t had a chance to look over the GOP plan yet, though he said that he briefly spoke to Capito. Biden added that he plans to meet with negotiators next week before stressing the need to get this “done” soon.
In a White House statement, press secretary Jen Psaki said, “At first review, we note several constructive additions to the group’s previous proposals, including on roads, bridges and rail. At the same time, we remain concerned that their plan still provides no substantial new funds for critical job-creating needs.”
She also expressed concerns over the GOP plan to pay for the bill.
“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.
Senate Republicans emphasized that the main sticking point in talks is what should qualify for inclusion in an "infrastructure" package.
“It would be the same definition that we're pursuing right now — the connectedness, above the ground and under the ground, airports, ports, roads, bridges, highways, all of those things are in our package,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who added that it also now encompasses broadband which wouldn’t have been part of the definition 40 years ago.
The Republican package would not raise taxes.
To pay for his proposal, Biden has signaled he’s open to increasing corporate tax rates but not as high as the 35 percent rate that was in effect before the 2017 tax cuts.
The president has also said that he’s open to other options as long as they don’t raise federal taxes on people making below $400,000.