Despite the White House openings to invite Republicans to the Oval Office this week and Biden’s continued promise to cross the aisle, Republicans are skeptical that the meetings will lead to any substantial progress, seeing the infrastructure debate as a repeat of negotiations on a Covid relief bill. it never materialized between Democrats and Republicans.
“Here’s where the disconnect that concerns me is: we go (to the White House), we negotiate, the president is very sincere, but in the end we are screwed because there is a partisan process. produce under Covid, and I’m concerned about that, ”said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican and the leading member of the Environment and Public Works committee who met with Biden on infrastructure .
Growing partisanship around infrastructure – once heralded as ripe for Republicans and Democrats to join – has emerged in recent weeks as the final battleground in the struggle between the two sides. Republicans have made it clear that they are both disappointed with the scope of Biden’s infrastructure plan and how he plans to pay for it.
“I don’t think there will be an appetite among Republicans to do anything that overrules the 2017 law,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota, referring to the overhaul tax passed by Republicans in 2017. The No. 2 Republican Senate keeps tabs on members’ stance on issues.
Sen. Roy Blunt, who heads the GOP, echoed Thune’s remark and said he believed a narrower bill, as well as lowering the tax rate hike corporations, would demonstrate Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship.
“I think it’s a question of whether they’re willing to deal with infrastructure – traditional infrastructure as a separate issue – and find ways to pay for it, as we’ve always done, without going in. in the 2017 tax bill, ”the Missouri Republican said.
Even a moderate Republican like Senator Lisa Murkowkski of Alaska has signaled that she would need to see the legislation drastically reduced before she could support it.
“If you advertise this as ‘this is an infrastructure package’, let’s be honest about what we’re talking about. If this is a significant stimulus bill, in addition to a stimulus bill important already that we’ve seen with the American Rescue Plan, so let’s label it for what it is, ”Murkowski said.
While Biden’s $ 2.3 trillion plan includes billions for traditional infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, the plan also invests significantly in areas like home health workers. . The White House plans to introduce the second installment of its massive jobs program focused on more human investments in areas such as paid family leave and expanding educational opportunities, which Republicans may struggle to support – shortly before Biden’s joint speech to Congress on April 28. , according to a White House official.
“The question is whether they are ready to make an infrastructure bill or if they want to make the big government bill, and if they want to make the big government bill, it is hard to see how you could get a lot of republicans to do that. vote for what they’re talking about, ”Thune said.
The proposals will total more than $ 4 trillion in new spending, officials said. The scope is decidedly ambitious, with Biden and his best advisers viewing the effort through the prism of the transformative progressive economic agendas of the past of Franklin Delano Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson.
But one of the messages White House officials want to convey to GOP officials, whom dozens of cabinet secretaries or senior assistants have spoken to in recent weeks, is that there is an opening for breaking down Biden’s proposals that could benefit from bipartisan support. and transmit them individually, according to two senior administration officials.
They stress, however, that any move in that direction would not end their pressure for everything else in their far-reaching proposals. Instead, these would likely end up being bundled into one bill by the end of the summer.
Biden and his team also know there is a limited window to any deal, an official said. Democrats are eager to do something quickly, and there are a lot of intra-party issues that need to be sorted out before that is possible.
“I would say it takes about a month for the actual negotiations to break out,” said a Democrat close to the White House. “If they don’t, it’s time to move on.”
Biden himself hasn’t weighed in on his preferred process, only that he wants to see progress by the end of May. The president remains in regular consultation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to officials. As a 36-year Senate veteran, Biden relies on the two longtime leaders of Congress to chart the best course forward.
White House officials also recognize that the legislative process will be radically different from the effort that led to the passage of Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion Covid relief package. It is understood that the relief program was considered an emergency. This legislative push will be different – an initiative that will take months and include intensive negotiations as cross-cutting priorities, even among Democrats in both chambers, follow one another.
“Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain,” Biden said last week.
However, whether this compromise and change comes with Republicans remains an open question.
Meanwhile, several GOP senators say that despite the administration meeting with some of their colleagues who sit on committees relevant to Biden’s infrastructure proposal, they are not convinced the president is serious about the bipartisanship.
Kansas Senator Jerry Moran told CNN that so far he “has not seen any evidence” that Biden plans to involve the Republican contribution and change the bill, pointing to the drafting of the proposal. “I hope to get a bipartisan infrastructure package, but I haven’t felt it,” he said.
Some worried senators are taking the bipartisan negotiations in hand. And a number of Republican senators are considering whether to issue a counterproposal to Biden.
A bipartisan group of 20 senators, who have worked together to help advance a Covid relief deal, plan to meet on Thursday to see if they can make progress on infrastructure, the Republican senator said on Wednesday. Mitt Romney from Utah to reporters on Capitol Hill. .
Still, mistrust is palpable in the wake of Democrats’ unilateral action on the Covid relief bill.
Portman and Blunt told CNN they are meeting with White House officials on Wednesday. “Let’s see if it’s going somewhere,” Blunt said.