Democrats reject compromise on Biden’s infrastructure bill

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Senate Republicans panned President Biden’s infrastructure package as a “dog’s breakfast” of wasteful spending and voiced skepticism about the White House’s efforts to win bipartisan support for the massive $2.3 trillion plan.

The president said Monday that he wants to move forward with members of both parties, but congressional Democrats already are making moves to again go it alone.

Mr. Biden said at the beginning of a nearly two-hour meeting with lawmakers that he’s not simply going through the motions on his Republican outreach and that he’s willing to compromise.

“I’m confident everything is going to work out perfectly,” he said to some laughter from the crowd in the Oval Office. “It’s going to get down to what we call infrastructure … I think broadband is infrastructure. It’s not just roads, bridges, highways, etc.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled later Monday afternoon that Republicans will resist what he called the White House’s “motley assortment of the left’s priciest priorities.”

“Less than 6% of this proposal goes to roads and bridges,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It’s not remotely targeted toward what Americans think they are getting when politicians campaign on infrastructure. But instead of coming up with a better bill, Democrats have decided it’s the English language that has to change.”

Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who met with Mr. Biden Monday, said afterward that there is significant space between the two sides despite some areas of agreement on roads, bridges, ports, airports, rail and broadband.

“Clearly there are parts of his program that are non-starters for Republicans,” said Mr. Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “It was a good meeting — whether we’ll be able to come to a bipartisan agreement that gets as expansive and as massive as he would like to, I don’t know.”

Mr. Wicker said it would be “almost impossible” for Mr. Biden to convince the GOP to roll back major parts of the 2017 tax law, which slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and cut individual income tax rates across the board.

Republicans say that raising the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, which Mr. Biden has proposed to pay for part of the new spending, would kill jobs at a time when the economy is starting to show signs of recovery from the coronavirus-related lockdowns.

“I think his main point was we’re not going to go small — we’re going to get this right,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, who is chairwoman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said of Mr. Biden.

The other Republicans slated to be in the meeting were Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana and Rep. Don Young of Alaska.

The other Democrats on the guest list were Sen. Alex Padilla of California, Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr. of New Jersey and Rep. David Price of North Carolina.

Senate Republicans said in a memo issued before the meeting that they can’t abide Mr. Biden’s expansive use of the term “infrastructure,” which he used to make a pitch in a separate meeting on Monday to boost supply chains of semiconductor chips amid a major shortage.

Much of the infrastructure package is “a dog’s breakfast of slush funds for Democrats’ pet projects without any accountability or transparency,” said the memo from the Senate Republican Conference.

Republicans have pointed to line items such as $10 billion for a “Civilian Climate Corps” and $400 billion for caregiving for the elderly as items that have nothing to do with fixing roads and bridges.

The spending side of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan also includes $620 billion for transportation infrastructure, $650 billion for universal broadband, clean water, upgrades to the electric grid and affordable housing, and $580 billion for research and development, manufacturing and training.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said that some pieces of the package might have to pass separately but that Democrats aren’t going to stand for Republican counter-proposals they think are too small.

“When [Sen.] Roy Blunt says the answer is, do a third of what the president wants, that doesn’t cut it with me,” said Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s office indicated that Senate rules could give Democrats at least two more chances this year to leverage a fast-track budget tool to pass legislation without GOP support.

Congressional Democrats used the process, known as reconciliation, to muscle through Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package without GOP votes, sidestepping the typical 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.

Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote gives Democrats effective control of the chamber.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders of Vermont said people don’t care about the process if lawmakers deliver results.

“Among other things, they want to create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, dealing with climate change,” said Mr. Sanders, a democratic socialist who caucuses with Democrats. “We have got to look at all possible approaches and get it done. But the most important thing is, get it done.”

He wants to add provisions to expand Medicare as part of Mr. Biden’s spending plans, an addition that would essentially doom any hope of winning Republican support.

“If I have anything to say about it, it will be [included],” he said.

Major business groups said that while the U.S. does need to spend money on infrastructure, the projects shouldn’t be paid for with tax hikes.

A Business Roundtable survey released Monday found that 98% of CEOs said an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% would have a “moderately” to “very” significant adverse effect on their company’s competitiveness.

Mr. Biden has signaled he’s open to negotiating on the corporate tax rate, and Democrats likely don’t have 50 votes to pass a 28% rate. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, has suggested a 25% rate.

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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