McConnell Says GOP Could Still Go Higher on Infrastructure (Getty Images)
Erik Wasson and Laura Litvan Thursday, 27 May 2021 12:13 PM
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his party could go beyond the revised infrastructure-spending offer it released Thursday morning, a plan that was over $1 trillion short of the latest presentation from President Joe Biden’s team.
“We’re open to spending some more,” McConnell said on MSNBC Thursday. Asked whether the submission by a group of GOP senators earlier in the day was a final offer, he said, “No, we’re going to keep talking.”
The Republican offer — unveiled Thursday morning by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Roy Blunt of Missouri — totals $928 billion over eight years, but most of that was funding Congress was expected to enact anyway.
Republicans are betting Biden will still try to seal a bipartisan deal on traditional infrastructure items, such as roads and bridges, before moving on to a broader spending and tax-hike plan that features ramped-up spending on social programs. But the latest limited offer could escalate pressure from congressional Democrats to ditch the talks and focus on the go-it-alone strategy.
“It’s getting close to pulling the plug time,” for the talks, said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. “That is a very modest offer.”
The Republican release listed net new spending of at least $257 billion:
- $91 billion for roads and bridges
- $48 billion for water infrastructure
- $25 billion for airports
- $65 billion for broadband
- $22 billion for freight and passenger rail
- $6 billion for water storage in the West
“This is a serious effort to reach a bipartisan agreement,” Capito told reporters Thursday. “We are hoping this moves the ball forward.”
Republicans argue that their proposal would be the largest physical infrastructure bill ever enacted and that the gap with Biden is smaller if unrelated social spending on elder care and other items are removed.
Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said in an interview, “My guess is it is easier to get 15 to 20 Republicans on a true infrastructure package than it is to get the last three Democrats on a bill that can include anything.”
In the 50-50 Senate, Biden would need the entire Democratic caucus behind any spending plan that uses the fast-track budget reconciliation method that was used for the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill in March. Durbin said earlier this week he didn’t yet know if Democrats have the votes to proceed via reconciliation.
Last Friday, the Biden administration reduced its proposal to $1.7 trillion from an initial $2.25 trillion, by lowering spending on roads, bridges and broadband and removing items, including investments in manufacturing, for inclusion in separate legislation. Democrats are hoping the latest proposal will help improve chances for a deal on a major Biden initiative before the fast-approaching Memorial Day weekend.
“I don’t really think this is a serious counter offer,” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said on MSNBC of the latest GOP plan, underscoring progressives’ opposition to trying to strike a deal with Republicans.
The two sides have been defining the size of the package differently, with Republicans including money already expected to be in the pipeline, such as baseline spending on regularly scheduled infrastructure maintenance.
Blunt said that excluding baseline spending from outlays to improve infrastructure “is not the way to look at this.”
“This is what people at home in Wyoming think of when we talk about infrastructure: Potholes that need to be fixed,” Barrasso said Thursday, urging support for the GOP approach. “This avoids the big threat to our economy: inflation.”
The GOP senators characterized their initial offer as $568 billion, while the White House pegged the amount of new spending in that proposal at a much lower $175 billion. Republicans pitched another version last week, though didn’t publicly specify its size. They propose to pay for the spending by rescinding Covid relief funds enacted in March, likely a non-starter for Democrats.
Blunt said Thursday that Republicans could be open to additional pay-fors, including creating an infrastructure bank to encourage public private partnerships.
“There are other things that we are willing to put on the table,” he said.
Congressional Democrats remain prepared to proceed without Republicans via the fast-track budget reconciliation tool they used for the $1.9 trillion pandemic-relief bill in March.
“We hope to move forward with Republicans” on infrastructure, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. At the same time, Schumer said the Democrats wouldn’t let the GOP “stand in our way.” He said the plan, one way or another, is “to move forward in July.”
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the new proposal.