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Biden pursues GOP infrastructure deal as anxious Democrats watch the clock

WASHINGTON – As President Joe Biden redoubles his search for Republican cooperation for an infrastructure package, some Democratic allies say he should be prepared to go it alone if a deal doesn’t materialize quickly.

The White House wants to see counteroffers to Biden’s $ 2.25 trillion infrastructure plan by the middle of this month, and if progress is not made by Memorial Day, officials will reassess their strategy of trying to build bipartisan support, said a person familiar with the negotiations.

Some moderate Democrats insist on making a deal – and others fear it will be a dead end that will waste precious time.

Republicans, who have launched a thinner $ 568 billion package, wonder if the White House is prepared to limit a bill to narrower measures, like roads and bridges, while removing items they are opposed, like the subsidies for the care of the elderly. Helpers to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also say they fear the other side is not negotiating in good faith.

If Democrats unite behind a proposal, they could use a budget process to pass legislation through the Senate without Republican support, as they did with the $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief program. But for now, they lack a consensus to take this path. And with razor thin majorities in both chambers, they can’t have no-shows.

Biden spoke by phone Thursday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., who is playing the point for her party on infrastructure. Both later seemed optimistic; Capito said it was a “constructive” discussion, and Biden described it as “good talk” and invited her to the White House.

“Let’s decide what they’re willing to consider in terms of what constitutes infrastructure, how much of it, and then we can discuss how to pay for it if we get to the point that we actually have a real number of it.” Biden told reporters. after the call. “If it’s like the last time – and I don’t, I think it’s serious – but if, like the last time, they come up with a quarter or a fifth of what I ask and say, ‘ This is a final offer, ‘so it’s forbidden for me.’

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Sunday that Capito and several other Republicans would be invited to the White House this week.

Finance Committee Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., Said he doubts Democrats are willing to compromise – unless they are forced to.

“Do they have the votes? If they don’t have the votes, they’re serious about bipartisanship. If they have the votes, they’re not serious about bipartisanship,” he said. “It’s my presumption.”

Behind the scenes, Biden and senior administration officials met with lawmakers. Efforts are expected to intensify this week, White House officials said. The White House has already held at least 415 phone calls or meetings with members of Congress, Congressional chiefs of staff and chief personnel officers from both sides, an official said. They conducted at least two dozen briefings for staff on Senate and House committees that were bipartisan or Republican only.

When it comes to dealing directly with members of Congress, Biden’s cabinet members tasked with helping pass the bill have called in at least 62 Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and senior officials from the The administration met with 10 senators from both parties, the official said. Klain and Steve Ricchetti, the president’s adviser, recently met with moderate Democrats for support, including the Blue Dog and Problem Solvers caucuses.

Biden will meet with key Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on May 12.

People close to the talks said Republicans will have a limited window to reach a deal and that May is a crucial month to assess the outlook. A person close to the White House said officials feared they would get drawn into endless negotiations that prove to be unsuccessful, an experience under the Obama administration that the White House is determined not to repeat.

Biden pursues GOP infrastructure deal as anxious Democrats watch the clock

There is a sense of urgency among Biden and his allies, who feel they have a limited window to pass legislation before members begin to focus on the midterm elections, in which Democrats could lose one or both houses of Congress.

“I think this month we’ll see if Republicans are genuinely willing to work together on tough issues,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Said in an interview.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a key deciding vote, is among Democrats who are not ready to go it alone. He cited the recent Senate vote 94-1 on a bill to tackle hate crimes against Asian Americans as a model for cooperation.

“Give them a chance,” he said. “I was very happy with the way it went.”

But some top Democrats say they must see results soon.

“It must be a timely discussion. We cannot waste a lot of time,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

When asked if Memorial Day could be a pivotal point, Durbin replied, “I would hate to announce a deadline.”

Senate Democrat No. 3 Patty Murray of Washington echoed that sentiment late last week.

“If they say, ‘We are not going to help you,’ then we will have to take the path of reconciliation,” Murray said. “But I think the country wants us to act.”

Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., A key player in the negotiations, said he would “do everything possible to try to find common ground,” but he issued a note of skepticism of “the Republican claim that multinational corporations – the biggest of the big guys, whose revenues have grown 40% in recent years, shouldn’t pay a dime for infrastructure.”

“It’s pretty hard to make anything bipartisan with it,” he said.

Biden, who called for raising taxes on businesses and households ((rechecking his households and not individuals as there was all that back and forth))) earning more than $ 400,000, also dismissed the opposition from the GOP to tax increases to help fund it. “It goes back to the old Republican stance of cutting taxes by $ 2 trillion, going into debt and not paying,” he said. “I mean, it’s ironic how this has all changed.”

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, a member of the Republican leadership team, said she was “a little skeptical” of White House outreach after choosing to pass the Covid-19 relief bill without Republican votes.

“But he said it on national television, and I hope he’s sincere about his work with Republicans on infrastructure, because I really think we can do something,” she said. declared.

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chairman of the Budget Committee, which would oversee the budget reconciliation process, said his “assumption is that Republicans are not serious about an infrastructure bill major which would include significant funding for infrastructure, for climate change, for affordable housing and certainly for human infrastructure as well. “

“Should we spend endless amounts of time negotiating with Republicans? The answer is absolutely not. We’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “If Republicans are serious and want to tackle the major crises this country is facing, that’s great. If not, that’s good. We are moving forward on our own.”

The White House believes it is negotiating from a position of strength, indicating a favorable poll: A survey by Monmouth University, for example, found that 68% of American adults supported the infrastructure plan, including 32% of Republicans , and 29% opposed it.

“The president has always been clear that he believes we should be able to craft policies that Democrats and Republicans can agree on. And that’s what he’s going to try to do as president,” White House Senior Advisor Anita Dunn said. “But it was also clear that he was elected to deliver for the American people. He will try to work with the Republicans,” she said, and “is realistic about their point of view, and he understands their policy. “

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