WASHINGTON – A nearly $1 trillion transportation bill GOP senators unveiled Thursday is a significant increase from an earlier Republican proposal but doesn’t include the social infrastructure or corporate tax increase President Joe Biden wants.
Biden and congressional Democrats are expected to give it a thumbs down because it relies heavily on unspent COVID-19 relief money intended for states and cities, and because it remains far short of the $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan President Joe Biden is pushing.
The Republican proposal is the latest in a weekslong back-and-forth between GOP moderates led by Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and the Biden administration who are hustling to finalize a deal by July 4.
The eight-year plan would amount to $928 billion and includes money for roads, bridges, transit, rail systems, waterways, airports, seaports and broadband. The Republican plan also includes $4 billion for new electric vehicle charging stations, a priority of the Biden administration.
Capito told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference Thursday she believes the latest proposal represents what Biden told the Republican senators in recent White House talks he would accept.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (Tyler Evert, AP)
“And that is to try to reach somewhere near $1 trillion over an eight-year period of time,” she said. “We have achieved that goal with this counteroffer.”
While the price tag for the GOP proposal is substantially higher than the roughly $600 billion Republicans were supporting, it’s still far below Biden’s trimmed-down $1.7 trillion plan that cut $550 billion out of his original $2.3 trillion pitch.
In addition, the GOP bill includes using unspent money from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in March. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said repurposing that money would avoid corporate tax increases Biden has proposed and keep former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts intact.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said raising taxes is a non-starter.
“We believe that the 2017 tax reform contributed significantly to enabling us to achieve the best economy in my lifetime. And that’s no small thing,” he said during Thursday’s news conference. “We’re not interested in undoing the provisions in the tax reform bill that allowed us to get here.”
But Democrats have balked at dipping into funds intended to help states and local governments recover from the pandemic.
And Karine Jean-Pierre, White House principal deputy press secretary, on Wednesday shot down the idea of using money approved for COVID-19 relief.
“There are simply not hundreds of billions of dollars in COVID relief funds available to repurpose,” she said.
Republican senators had initially proposed a $568 billion bill last month that focused solely on traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges, aviation, waterways and transit.
The $1 trillion bill released Thursday would allocate:
- $506 billion for roads, bridges and “major projects”
- $98 billion for transit
- $72 billion for water infrastructure
- $65 billion for broadband
- $56 billion for airports
- $46 billion for freight and passenger rail
- $22 billion for ports and waterways
- $22 billion for western water storage
- $21 billion for safety programs
- $20 billion for infrastructure financing
With the two sides still far apart, some Democrats say the time is nearing for Biden to try to pass an infrastructure package without Republican support through a legislative maneuver called reconciliation.
Biden and Democrats could seek to pass the American Jobs Plan in the evenly divided Senate using budget reconciliation, a process subject to certain rules but that would allow Democrats to approve a bill with a simple 51-vote majority without any Republican support. Otherwise, Democrats would need the backing of at least 10 Republicans to overcome a legislative hurdle called a filibuster in order to bring the plan to a vote.
“We’re getting down to decision time,” Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Monday. “We can’t put this (off) indefinitely.”
“We just have to decide whether bipartisanship is going to work and be honest if it isn’t,” Durbin said, adding he would be “reluctant” to agree to anything lower than Biden’s $1.7 trillion offer on the table.
In his $1.7 trillion counteroffer, Biden proposed minor concessions to remove funding for research and development, supply chains, manufacturing and small businesses. It would also reduce $100 billion for broadband expansion to $65 billion, matching what Republicans have proposed, and cut funds for roads and bridges.
Yet the trimmed-down plan would still keep corporate tax increases that Republicans have said they won’t support under any circumstances. It would also fund home caregiving for elderly and disabled people, electric vehicle expansion and other “social infrastructure” components that Republicans oppose. Republicans have said they only support spending on physical infrastructure such as roadways, bridges, ports, airports and broadband internet.
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