Capito, Senate Republicans to ship counteroffer

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia, left, speaks as Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, center, and Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, listen during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A group of Senate Republicans plans to send President Joe Biden an infrastructure counteroffer this week as the sides consider whether they can bridge an ideological gulf to craft a bipartisan bill.

The proposal could cost nearly $1 trillion, and Republicans aim to offset the spending without increasing taxes. The group of GOP lawmakers aims to deliver the plan as soon as Thursday morning.

Hopes for an agreement between the parties to revamp U.S. transportation and broadband appeared to dim last week. After the White House cut its infrastructure offer to $1.7 trillion from $2.3 trillion, an aide to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the plan’s price tag was “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support.”

The Republican group initially put out a $568 billion infrastructure framework last month.

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Democrats will have to decide whether they want to chop up their plan enough to win Republican votes, or try to forge ahead on their own using special budget rules. It is unclear if they would consider passing parts of the proposal with GOP support, then moving to approve other pieces on their own.

The Biden administration has said it wants to see whether it can make progress in bipartisan infrastructure talks before Memorial Day.

Asked after a meeting of the Republicans leading the infrastructure effort if this week’s offer would be the GOP’s last, Capito said she would wait to see how the White House reacted to it. She noted that bipartisan plans that could become part of a broader infrastructure package — including a roughly $300 billion surface transportation bill she helped to craft as ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee — are working their way through congressional panels.

“I think that we’ve got good momentum, but we’ll see what [the White House’s] reaction is,” Capito said Tuesday.

The parties need to resolve fundamental issues to come to an accord on infrastructure, one of Biden’s top priorities in the White House. They have disagreed on what should count as infrastructure, as Democrats push for a bill to include policies including care for elderly and disabled Americans.

Biden also wants to pay for the legislation through tax increases on corporations. Republicans have opposed any effort to hike the corporate rate, set at 21% after the 2017 GOP tax cuts.

“We’re not going to have any votes at all to tamper with the 2017 tax bill,” Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said Tuesday.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., on Tuesday suggested using money already approved by Congress but not yet spent. While he did not specify which funds he thinks lawmakers could repurpose, some Republicans have previously suggested using state and local government aid approved as part of coronavirus relief bills.

After Biden met with six Republican senators earlier this month, the sides expressed hope about striking an infrastructure deal. However, an aide to Capito said the administration and Republicans seemed “further apart” after senators met with Biden’s staff.

Capito said the Republicans would be open to meeting with Biden again.

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