Infrastructure talks hit snag as Republicans reject Biden's reduced $1.7 trillion counteroffer

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With a badly aging bridge as his backdrop, President Joe Biden stood in reliably Republican Louisiana on Thursday to pressure GOP lawmakers to support his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, calling it a “blue collar blueprint to rebuild America.” (May 6) AP Domestic

WASHINGTON — Efforts to strike a bipartisan deal on an infrastructure package are in jeopardy after Senate Republicans rejected a $1.7 trillion counteroffer Friday from President Joe Biden’s administration, exposing wide gaps that remained in negotiations.

The setback, following weeks of talks that accelerated in recent days, raises major doubts over Biden’s goal to pass a sweeping infrastructure bill with support from both Democrats and Republicans. 

In his counteroffer cutting an original $2.3 trillion package, Biden proposed minor concessions to remove funding for research and development, supply chains, manufacturing and small businesses. Yet it would keep tax increases that Republicans have said they won’t support under any circumstances.

More: Biden pushes U.S. electric vehicle revolution — a sticking point in GOP infrastructure talks

Other changes in Biden’s American Jobs Plan counterproposal include reducing $100 billion for broadband expansion to $65 billion, matching the amount outlined in a $586 billion plan from Senate Republicans, and reducing funds for roads and bridges.

“In our view, this is the art of seeking common ground,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at Friday’s press briefing. “This proposal exhibits a willingness to come down in size, giving on some areas that are important to the president … while also staying firm in areas that are most vital to building our infrastructure and industries of the future.”

More: More electric car charging stations needed to juice EV sales: Is Biden’s 500,000 proposal on target?

Republicans swiftly shot down the counterproposal.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who is leading Republican talks with the Biden administration, said the proposal is still “above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support.” Kelley Moore, Capito’s communications director, said the two sides are “further apart” today than they were following an in-person meeting with Biden last week.

“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,” Moore said. “Based on today’s meeting, the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden.”

Senior White House officials including Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president, unveiled the counteroffer Friday during a conference call to a group of six Republican senators led by Capito. The White House contingent also included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. The same parties met Tuesday.

Turning off Republicans, Biden’s counteroffer keeps the president’s proposal to raise corporate taxes to 28% to pay for the new spending over the next decade. 

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell last week drew a “red line” opposing any package that would undo former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts by raising the corporate tax rate.

More: Republicans draw ‘red line’ in negotiations with Joe Biden on infrastructure package

More: Senate Republicans propose $568 billion infrastructure plan to counter Biden

And despite the minor concessions, Biden’s counteroffer keeps other spending that Republicans oppose. 

McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy have said they want the package to stick strictly to physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports and broadband expansion, not electric vehicles, home caregiving or other so-called “human infrastructure” that Biden has proposed.

Biden’s American Jobs Plan would include billions for caregiving for seniors and disabled people, the expansion of electric vehicles and other investments on top of traditional transportation infrastructure. He’s also pushing $1.8 trillion in investments for families and children.

Biden has billed the jobs proposal as a domestic investment not seen in the U.S. since the construction of the interstate highways in the 1950s and the space race a decade later.

The plan seeks to reshape an American economy struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, while positioning the United States to fight climate change and out-compete China in manufacturing.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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