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Biden's infrastructure talks with GOP collapse amid irreconcilable differences

·6 min read
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's infrastructure talks with Republicans collapsed Tuesday, the lead GOP negotiator said.

"I spoke with the president this afternoon, and he ended our infrastructure negotiations," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a statement.

The end of the talks will increase pressure on Democrats to pass a sweeping package using a special process that doesn't require any Republican votes in the Senate.

Weeks of negotiations failed to bring the White House and Republicans close to a deal. They remained far apart on a total price tag for a bill, which types of projects should be included and whether to raise any new taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said that as negotiations "seem to be running into a brick wall," Democrats are "pursuing a two-path proposal" that includes focusing on new talks among a group of senators from both parties, including Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

"At the same time, we are pursuing the pursuit of reconciliation," Schumer said, referring to the process of passing legislation with a simple majority in the Senate, which Democrats used to advance the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief law.

"It may well be that part of the bill that'll pass will be bipartisan and part of it will be through reconciliation. But we're not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill," he said.

After negotiations broke down, the backup bipartisan infrastructure group wrapped up an almost three-hour meeting Tuesday evening in the Capitol basement hideaway of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

"This group is making a lot of progress, but we have a total of 100 senators, not eight," Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters. "We went through line by line, and we've got pretty good agreement on most of those and went to the pay-fors, as well, and they're a little less solid. ... We got the categories, we got a round number for each one."

There doesn't appear to be agreement among the group on the overall topline number, as well as how to pay for the bill. But senators are starting to float a rough timeline of "within the next week" as when there could be a framework. Others, however, stressed that while they made progress, nothing is finalized.

The senators will continue to meet, they said, and begin to take their ideas to more members of the larger so-called G20 bipartisan group.

"My sense is that this is kind of everybody, if you will. You can't get a successful deal unless you can figure out a way to get the White House. You can't get the White House unless you can figure out how you get the Democrats. You can't get the Democrats unless you can figure out how to get the Republicans," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. "So we're all just going to move forward."

A White House official said that Republicans were asked whether they could raise their offer by a significant amount and that they couldn't. Biden also asked them to be specific in thinking about how to pay for the proposal without the 2017 tax plan, and they couldn't do that either, the official said.

Republicans' proposal is at $330 billion in new investment, and they have moved by only $150 billion since talks started, the official said. The official said that there was good-faith, respectful engagement with Capito.

Capito said the issue of taxes was an irresolvable red line. "Despite the progress we made in our negotiations, the president continued to respond with offers that included tax increases as his pay for, instead of several practical options that would have not been harmful to individuals, families, and small businesses," she said.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Democrats are "working hard on a budget resolution" and argued that it "makes absolute sense" to start moving the vehicle, which would allow them to evade a filibuster and make changes to spending and tax laws without Republican support.

"Given the crises that we're facing, the Republican proposal is totally inadequate, and we've got to go forward," Sanders said, adding that the Republican plan doesn't address climate change, housing, health care and childhood poverty.

The bipartisan group of senators is accelerating its work, multiple sources said. In a sign that the White House is turning its attention to that group, Biden called Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to discuss infrastructure.

"We're encouraged by these discussions and see them as an additional viable path forward," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "We fully expect that there will be several pathways that are moving on different channels as we look to how we're going to get this American Jobs Plan passed."

The senators — who include Sinema, Portman, Cassidy, Romney and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — were expected to present their plan to 20 moderate lawmakers Tuesday evening.

"We've pretty much agreed on the spending level. I'm sure there will be some adjustments as we go along, and the pay-fors," Romney told reporters Monday. "We have a proposal that we'll take to the entire group and see how they feel about it."

The White House is reviewing another bipartisan proposal from the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a source familiar with the discussions said.

The co-chairs, Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., met with a senior adviser to the president, Brian Deese, on Monday night to go over their plan. The Problem Solvers have been working closely with the Plan B senators, and their plans are similar, said the source familiar with the discussions.

Their plan includes more than $761 billion in new spending, which is about $450 billion more than what Capito proposed and about $240 billion less than Biden's latest request.

The group doesn’t include so-called, "pay-fors," or details about how the government would raise taxes or cut other spending to fun the projects. The pay-fors have proven to be the most difficult part of negotiations, but the negotiators are working closely with the bipartisan group of senators, the G20, on how to pay for it.

But questions persist about the viability of a bipartisan infrastructure plan.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's leadership team, cast doubt on the prospects of gaining 10 GOP votes for infrastructure.

"We're at a point where to put a bipartisan program together with Republican votes, we're as high as we go," Barrasso said.

In their latest offer, Republicans offered about $307 billion in new funding, far less than the $1 trillion Biden wanted. Republicans also rejected the new way to account for an inheritance tax and a 15 percent global minimum tax, two avenues Biden has proposed to pay for the legislation.

Many Democrats are growing impatient.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is marking up its $547 billion surface transportation bill Wednesday. It's a signal that House Democrats are moving forward with their infrastructure bill regardless of where bipartisan talks between Biden and the Senate stand.

The bill is just one part of $4 trillion in infrastructure spending Democrats want, but it is expected to be the base of the House's infrastructure bill.

In the end, the left recognizes that it needs centrist Democrats like Manchin to pass anything meaningful.

"It's Joe Manchin's houseboat. We're all just getting nauseous on it," progressive strategist Sean McElwee said, referring to where Manchin lives when he is in Washington.