WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — Republican senators outlined a $928 billion infrastructure proposal Thursday, a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s more sweeping plan as the two sides struggle to negotiate a bipartisan compromise and remain far apart on how to pay for the massive spending.
The Republican offer would increase spending by $91 billion on roads and bridges, $48 billion on water resources and $25 billion on airports, according to a one-page summary released by the GOP negotiators. It also would provide for one-time increases in broadband investments, at $65 billion, and $22 billion on rail.
Republicans have rejected Biden’s proposed corporate tax increase to pay for new investments, and instead want to shift unspent COVID-19 relief dollars to help cover the costs.
“It’s a serious effort to try to reach a bipartisan agreement,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the lead GOP negotiator.
The Republican senators said their offer delivers on “core infrastructure investments” that Biden has focused on as areas of potential bipartisan agreement. But their overall approach is likely to be met with skepticism by Democrats and the White House.
With about $250 billion in new spending, their plan falls short of the more ambitious proposal outlined in the president’s American Jobs Plan. In earlier negotiations. Biden reduced his $2.3 trillion opening bid to $1.7 trillion.
Investing in infrastructure is a top legislative priority for Biden. Talks are at a crossroads before a Memorial Day deadline to make progress toward a bipartisan deal. The White House is assessing whether the president can strike the contours of an agreement with Republicans or whether he will try to go it alone with Democrats if no progress is made in the coming days.
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki declined to address the new plan, but said: “We expect this week to be a week of progress.”
The Republicans have uniformly rejected Biden’s plan to pay for the investments by raising the corporate tax rate, from 21% to 28%. Instead, the GOP senators want to shift unspent COVID-19 relief funds to infrastructure, which may be a nonstarter for Democrats. Republicans also want to rely on gas taxes, tolls and other fees charged to drivers to pay for the highways and other infrastructure.
“We are anxious to have a bipartisan agreement,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who is leading the group of GOP negotiators.
Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to rebuff dipping into coronavirus relief funds, particularly money that had been sent to the states and local governments that now seems less urgent as some jurisdictions reported better-than-expected balance sheets.
“My view is that we gave that to the cities and states and counties with the understanding that it may take a little time for them to spend it,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a longtime congressional budget expert. “I think it’d be a big mistake to try to claw that back.”
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who tapped Capito to lead the GOP effort, gave a nod to the latest offer, saying the idea of repurposing the COVID-19 funds was “good advice” from Larry Summers, a Harvard professor and Clinton-era treasury secretary. Summers suggested as much in a recent op-ed as some economists warn of rising inflation with the government spending.
But Republicans and the White House are eyeing each other warily in a high-stakes negotiation with far-reaching political ramifications whether they succeed or fail. “We are now very far apart,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of GOP leadership.
The Republican senators and aides have made no secret of their displeasure with the White House staff in this and other negotiations.
Among Democrats, it’s not lost on them that McConnell has said repeatedly that “100% of my focus” is on stopping Biden’s agenda.
Adding to the mix, a bipartisan group that includes Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is quietly working on other proposals, as a “backup,” he said.
“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.
All reporting by Lisa Masccaro. The Associated Press contributed to this report.