President Biden and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito will meet Wednesday afternoon for high-stakes talks on a potential infrastructure deal as the two parties’ proposals are hundreds of billions of dollars apart and progressive Democrats push Biden to ditch negotiations and go it alone with a Democrats-only bill.
“The president is looking forward to hosting Senator Capito on Wednesday afternoon at the White House, where they will continue their bipartisan negotiations about investing in our middle class and economic growth through infrastructure,” the White House said Tuesday.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Capito, R-W.Va., expressed optimism that there is still compromise to be had between the president and Senate Republicans.
“I think we can get to real compromise absolutely because we’re both still in the game,” she said. “The president told me himself let’s… get this done.”
Republicans last week unveiled their counteroffer that would cost just over $925 billion and focus mainly on roads, bridges and public transit while also spending $134 billion combined on water and broadband infrastructure.
That offer was praised by both the White House and moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., as serious. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president was “encouraged” by the funding level Republicans included in their plan.
“It sounds like it’s moving in a very positive way, that’s great,” Manchin said of the GOP proposal Thursday.
But that proposal was still nearly $800 billion less than the $1.7 trillion White House position from the week before. That offer came after the White House previously proposed a massive $2.25 trillion plan that Republicans slammed for primarily spending money on things that are not infrastructure.
Capito, along with Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., last week acknowledged the wide gap but said they believe there is still compromise to be found.
“We recognize that your most recent offer leaves us far apart and, coupled with your Memorial Day deadline, leaves little time to close the gap. However, proceeding with reconciliation would undermine the good work we have done, and can continue to do, in a bipartisan manner,” the senators said in their memo to Biden. Biden pushed back that Memorial Day deadline, apparently out of optimism a deal can be struck.
A major sticking point, however, are the proposed funding methods for the infrastructure spending. Biden wants to undo the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was one of Republicans’ signature achievements in the Trump era. Republicans, meanwhile, want to take money from the recent coronavirus stimulus bill and redirect it for infrastructure.
Psaki last week pushed back on the idea, saying that too much of the COVID money is already allocated. But Manchin appeared to side with Republicans, saying he has faith that the spare money is there if they say it is.
“I think they can support that and back it up, so we’ll look at that and make sure we’re on the same page. But you have to give them credit, they’ve been working hard and did a good job,” the West Virginia Democrat said.
Republicans have been itching to get in the room with Biden again after what they said was a productive and encouraging first meeting with him on the infrastructure topic. But they’ve been frustrated by subsequent talks with his aides and other White House staffers, who they say appear to be less interested in making a deal than the president, who was a senator from 1973 through 2009.
“If the president gets to make the decision, he will accept this,” Wicker said of Republicans’ latest offer last week.
But if some progressive Democrats have their way, Biden not only won’t accept Republicans latest offer, he’ll break off talks with them entirely.
“Mitch McConnell has already said that 100% of his focus is on blocking the Biden agenda,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., tweeted last week. “So why are we negotiating with Republicans for a smaller infrastructure plan? Now is the time to GO BIG.”
“The Republican party has already shown a pattern of the fact that their vote can’t even be counted on,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said during a town hall last week, suggesting that Democrats may end up whittling down a package that Republicans still won’t support.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., meanwhile, said, “The American people want action, not never-ending ‘negotiations’ and obstructionism.”
That sentiment appears to be making some progress with more mainstream Democrats as well, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“Reconciliation is certainly a serious consideration to get that big, bold action if we can’t get it with Republicans,” Schumer said Friday. Schumer was referencing a process called budget reconciliation that would let Democrats circumvent the filibuster in the Senate, therefore eliminating the need for 10 Republican votes to pass the bill.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with reporters after stepping off the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on May 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. If Democrats decide to abandon negotiations with Republicans on infrastructure, some GOP senators suggest it will be hard for Democrats to secure votes from Manchin and other moderate Democrats for a bill passed under budget reconciliation. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said over the weekend on CNN that negotiations are “getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment.”
Democrats already passed Biden’s coronavirus relief bill under reconciliation and have said the Senate parliamentarian will allow them to pass even more spending bills through the same process.
But Republicans note that for Democrats to pass anything under reconciliation, they’ll have to get Manchin and his fellow moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., on board. That may be a tall ask, especially with how laudatory Manchin has been of the state of infrastructure negotiations.
Blunt suggested that Republicans are more eager to make a deal than moderate Senate Democrats are to spurn one, as party progressives would have it.
“My guess here is its easier to get 15, 20 or more Republicans on true infrastructure package than it would be to get the last three Democrats on a package that could include anything,” Blunt said.
Fox News’ Megan Treanor, Megan Henney, John Roberts, Hillary Vaughn, Chad Pergram and Jacqui Heinrich contributed to this report.