President Biden and Senate Republicans have agreed to continue negotiations on an infrastructure spending plan despite an ongoing split over the scope of the proposal and how to pay for it.
Biden hosted Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the GOP’s lead negotiator on infrastructure, at the White House on Wednesday, and the pair agreed to reconvene Friday as the window for a bipartisan deal appears to be narrowing.
The Biden administration aims to have an agreement this summer, and some fellow Democrats are urging the president to wrap up bipartisan talks.
“This afternoon, the president hosted Senator Capito for a constructive and frank conversation in the Oval Office about how we can drive economic growth and benefit America’s middle class through investing in our infrastructure,” the White House said in a statement.
During the roughly hourlong meeting Wednesday, Capito and Biden discussed the latest, $928 billion proposal from Republicans. Kelley Moore, a spokeswoman for Moore Capito, said the GOP negotiating team will convene ahead of Friday’s meeting.
“Senator Capito reiterated to the president her desire to work together to reach an infrastructure agreement that can pass Congress in a bipartisan way,” Moore said in a statement. “She also stressed the progress that the Senate has already made. Senator Capito is encouraged that negotiations have continued.”
Wednesday’s White House meeting was the latest attempt to bring Republicans and Democrats within a manageable range for true negotiations on infrastructure policy. So far the two sides have been stuck in the early stages of talks with nearly $1 trillion separating their proposals. They have also failed to agree on what should be included in an infrastructure bill.
The disagreement over the price tag was only partially alleviated last week, when GOP senators increased the overall size of their offer. Democrats were frustrated that Republicans are including hundreds of billions of dollars in investments Congress was already planning. The total new money in the latest GOP plan is $257 billion, a small fraction of what Biden has proposed.
Republicans are also planning to pay for the spending by repurposing money Congress already approved for coronavirus relief programs. That idea is a nonstarter for the vast majority of Democrats.
The White House told reporters last week that roughly 95% of the earlier $3 trillion COVID relief money was either already obligated as of March, or has been set aside for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment insurance or nutrition assistance.
“Of the remaining 5% the largest categories of unobligated balances are in the Heath Care Provider Relief Fund — funding for rural hospitals, health care providers and disaster loans for small businesses,” a White House official said.
Biden is instead focused on increasing taxes on high-income earners and corporations.
Republicans are pressuring Democrats to remove social programs, like funding for child care and elder care, and environmental protection elements from the infrastructure talks and pursue them as separate legislation.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Fox News Sunday that the disagreement about how to categorize elements of Biden’s plan is “philosophical,” and he argued the elements the GOP opposes should remain in any infrastructure plan.
“We think of it as infrastructure because infrastructure is the foundation that lets people participate in the economy,” Buttigieg said. “When you’re taking care of a loved one, doing some of those things because you don’t have the right kind of care structure to look after them and you can’t even get a job because you’re in this elder care situation — because somehow we’re one of the only developed countries that doesn’t take care of this — that’s holding you back the same way it holds you back if you don’t have a road or bridge to get to where you want to go.”
Democrats could choose to package the more controversial provisions of their plan as separate legislation, but doing so would risk angering elements of their own base, whose votes will be necessary to get any legislation through the narrowly divided House and Senate.