White House, GOP infrastructure talks reach crucial milestone

WASHINGTON (AP) – Negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans over President Joe Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure plan reach crucial milestone ahead of talks on Friday after GOP’s latest offer was left some dismay in the administration that there was no more movement out of the Republicans’ initial $ 568 billion proposal.

The Republicans increased their bid and worked in good faith with the White House, according to a Republican who was granted anonymity to discuss the private talks.

But the slog of the closed-door talks is sure to spark further concerns among Democrats that time is running out to find a compromise. The president’s team had set a deadline for Memorial Day to determine whether a deal was within reach.

At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said “productive conversations” were underway on Capitol Hill.

The White House team is expected to resume discussions with senators on Friday. “We look forward to constructive conversations,” Psaki said.

Securing a sweeping infrastructure plan is Biden’s top priority as he seeks to deliver on his election promise to ‘build back better’ in the wake of the coronavirus crisis and economic churn of a changing economy . With narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, the president is asking Republicans to garner support on a potentially bipartisan approach rather than simply relying on his own party to bolster the passage proposal. But Republicans reject Biden’s idea of ​​a corporate tax hike to pay for the investments.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated on Fox News Thursday that tax hikes on businesses or wealthier Americans are not starting. Republicans are unwilling to reverse their national achievement with Trump, the 2017 tax cuts, which cut the corporate rate from 35% to 21%. Biden proposes to raise corporate tax to 28%.

“If they are willing to settle on a target infrastructure bill without reviewing the 2017 tax bill, we will work with them,” McConnell told Larry Kudlow of Fox, a former Trump adviser. But he said a package exceeding $ 2 trillion or more “will not have any Republican support.”

The administration and GOP senators have been in talks since Biden met with a core group of Republican negotiators last week about the possibility of working together on a plan. The White House dispatched transport and commerce secretaries and key aides to Capitol Hill to meet with Republicans on Tuesday night after the president asked senators to provide more details on their initial offer.

Senior Republican negotiator, West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, was encouraged by the talks and expected the White House to be in touch again by the end of the week, her office said.

But there was no “significantly changed offer” from Republicans when they met with the administration this week, according to a person who was granted anonymity to discuss the private negotiations.

White House hopes for a bipartisan infrastructure deal have cooled, but they have not given up on the effort, according to an administration official not authorized to speak publicly about the private conversations. There was some dismay that the Republican counter-offer did not budge substantially from the party’s original $ 568 billion proposal, leaving it well short of the White House’s plan, according to the official.

A team of West Wing officials, including senior adviser Steve Ricchetti and head of legislative affairs Louisa Terrell, were due to meet with Republicans on the proposal on Friday.

The administration had set a deadline for Memorial Day to assess whether sufficient progress had been made to forge a bipartisan accord or whether it would need to follow party lines. Biden welcomed the face-to-face negotiations, aides said, and expressed hope to involve Republicans. And West Wing officials were encouraged by the public comments from some members of the GOP negotiating team, including Capito, the official said.

But the external discussions on progress have not translated into a rapprochement between the two parties of an agreement. Beyond the large gap between the two sides’ visions for the size of the package, there has been little discussion of how to come to an agreement on how to pay for it.

A GOP senator in the talks suggested tapping unspent funds from the massive COVID-19 aid program to help pay for the infrastructure investment, the Republican said. Other funds could come from uncollected tax revenues or from public-private partnerships.

One strategy that had gained momentum would be for Biden to negotiate a more limited traditional infrastructure bill for roads, highways, bridges and broadband as part of a bipartisan effort. Then Democrats could try to get a handle on the rest of Biden’s priorities on climate investments and the so-called human infrastructure for child care, education and hospitals.

But, according to administration aides, if such a bipartisan “infrastructure-only” deal is much smaller than Biden’s initial proposal, the White House risks a rebellion from Democrats who might claim the president did a bad job. okay and missed the time to pass a sweeping, transformational package.

For now, Republicans and the White House are entangled over definitions of infrastructure as Biden seeks new investments in hospitals, daycares and electric vehicles for this first bill, and Republicans stay more closely focused on traditional roads, bridges and other “hard” infrastructure projects. McConnell said they could go up to $ 800 billion on a package.

But House and Senate Democrats say much of what Republicans have proposed so far is simply existing spending and nowhere near that amount.

At the same time, House Republicans are working on their own alternative to Biden’s plan.

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