UPDATE Senate Republicans on Thursday took the wraps off their $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer to President Joe Biden, as talks progressed to see whether both sides can reach a deal. GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia has led the Republican negotiations. She said she was “optimistic” about infrastructure talks with Biden but still sees a “big gap” between Republican and White House plans, according to CNBC.
The plan still includes $65 billion for broadband. Inside Towers reported last week the latest White House offer, whittled from around $3 trillion to $1.7 trillion, also included $65 billion for broadband.
Republicans and the White House have moved closer to agreement on an infrastructure plan but still need to resolve fundamental issues about the scope of a package and how to pay for it, Capito said Thursday. She said the sides are “inching closer” in negotiations ahead of Memorial Day. That’s the date by which the White House wanted to see progress in bipartisan talks.
“We’re still talking. I’m optimistic, we still have a big gap,” she told CNBC. “I think where we’re really falling short is we can’t seem to get the White House to agree on a definition or a scope of infrastructure that matches where we think it is, and that’s physical, core infrastructure.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said the GOP could make additional offers after Thursday’s proposal.
Biden has urged the GOP to put at least $1 trillion into an infrastructure package. In a statement Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised “constructive additions” to the Republican proposal, but said the administration “remains concerned” about the funding levels for rail systems, public transit and clean energy. She added that the White House is “worried that major cuts in COVID relief funds could imperil pending aid to small businesses, restaurants and rural hospitals.”
She said the President thanked Capito, and said he’d follow-up with her after getting more details. “We are also continuing to explore other proposals that we hope will emerge,” said Psaki.
To reach a deal, the sides would have to resolve not only a gap in the total price, but also differing visions of how to offset the spending, CNBC reported. In their counteroffer, Republicans again rejected Biden’s call to raise corporate taxes, contending they could cover infrastructure costs with funds already allocated by Congress or with transportation user fees.
Biden will also have to handle concerns from within his own party, as some lawmakers worry about the president watering down his vision to win GOP support. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), for example, said it wasn’t “a serious counteroffer. They have this illusory notion of how we’re going to take money that’s already been committed to other places and other spending.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers, Washington Bureau Chief