Senate Republicans are preparing a $1 trillion infrastructure counteroffer to present to the White House by Thursday, reviving negotiations over President Joe Biden’s sweeping investment plan ahead of a Memorial Day deadline for progress toward a bipartisan deal.
Republicans sounded upbeat Tuesday after both sides had panned the latest offers.
Biden had dropped his $2.3 trillion opening bid to $1.7 trillion. Republicans had nudged their initial $568 billion offer up by about $50 billion. The Republicans said their new $1 trillion offer, spread over eight years, would be aligned with what they discussed with Biden in their first Oval Office meeting almost two weeks ago.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki struck a similar note of optimism: “We expect this week to be a week of progress.”
The sweeping infrastructure investment, in particular, faces a crucial moment: The White House is assessing whether the president can strike a bipartisan deal with Republicans on his American Jobs Plan, a top domestic priority, or try to go it alone with Democrats if no progress is made over the next week. Biden’s allies in the House and Senate are preparing for all scenarios.
A core group of Republican negotiators led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., emerged from an early Tuesday huddle to announce its coming new proposal.
“We are anxious to have a bipartisan agreement,” Capito told reporters on Capitol Hill.
A GOP aide who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private talks said the price tag would be $1 trillion over eight years, paid for by tapping funds that have been allocated as part of COVID-19 relief but not yet spent. The aide said about $700 billion remains in unspent virus aid.
Capito said the group agreed that what they heard from the president during that first meeting was in line with what they were proposing. “That’s why I think when we left there we were pretty optimistic that this is a doable,” she said.
The Republican senators and aides have made no secret of their displeasure with the White House staff in this and other negotiations.
Publicly and privately, they say that while Biden appears willing to negotiate with the senators, his staff often changes course. They point to a similar dynamic during coronavirus aid talks when Biden seemed to agree with a group of GOP senators, only to have staff behind him shaking their heads no.
The Republicans are eager to publicly disclose Biden’s comments to them as they make the case for their new offer at a critical juncture, with negotiations at a fragile stage ahead of the Memorial Day deadline.
GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said Republican offers so far have been “mischaracterized.” He told reporters the negotiators would be putting out a “clarification” that will “make it clear what our offer actually is.”
The Republicans have uniformly rejected Biden’s plan to pay for the investments by raising corporate tax rates.
Psaki declined to comment on the forthcoming GOP proposal.
“This is going to feel like a tightrope walk all the way until it gets to Biden’s desk,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president of Third Way, a centrist think tank.
The administration is signaling that it’s important not just whether Biden can push his infrastructure and other proposals into law, but also how he does it. By this reasoning, voters—and some moderate Democratic lawmakers—are more likely to be on board if Biden at least tries for bipartisanship.
The West Wing believes its bargaining position is strong. Aides point to Biden’s high poll numbers and the popularity of his proposals, all while believing that they have the option of muscling the infrastructure plan to passage under special budget reconciliation rules that require only a party-line vote.
But there is a growing sense of urgency within the White House and among Democrats. After a burst of legislative accomplishments, including the COVID-19 relief bill, the pace has slowed dramatically. And the future may hinge on a few select senators.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said repeatedly that “100% of my focus” is on stopping Biden’s agenda.
Earlier this week, Psaki said that Biden is eager to engage with Republicans and awaited their next offer. “The ball is in the Republicans’ court,” Psaki said at Monday’s White House briefing.
Psaki insisted no decisions had been made on whether the administration will go it alone as it awaits a counteroffer from Republicans. “We’re not quite there yet,” she said.