- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 11, 2021

President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package is hitting heavy traffic ahead of a meeting with lawmakers at the White House on Monday to chart a path forward.

Liberal Democrats issued new demands on Medicare and amnesty for illegal immigrants, which the administration refused to rule out, and Republicans said there is a narrower deal to be had if Mr. Biden doesn’t run roughshod over them again.

Administration officials said Sunday that they want movement in Congress by Memorial Day, which would require a breakneck pace if Mr. Biden is serious about winning over Republican support, as he has said.

“The sort of big, bold, utopian, European-style socialism proposal that they’ve laid out there is something they can try and do another time,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, South Dakota Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But if they’re sincere about doing something on infrastructure, I think there are Republicans who would vote for it.”

Unlike Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, congressional Democrats say they will withhold their votes if the plan doesn’t include items such as restoration of a state and local tax deduction prized by wealthier residents in blue states such as California and New York.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a list of demands for Mr. Biden’s economic proposals, including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and legislation to expand Medicare with estimated savings from lowering prescription drug prices.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg refused to rule out a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrant “Dreamers” as part of the infrastructure and tax package.

“That’s not in the plan that the president’s put forward,” Mr. Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I will say that we’re hearing a lot of ideas from across the aisle and from within our caucus on what to do about the pay-fors, different shapes that the infrastructure package and the transportation infrastructure can take.

“I think you’ll find the president is ready to listen to these ideas that are going to come up, for example, in tomorrow’s meeting,” he said.

Mr. Biden is hosting Democratic and Republican lawmakers to see whether they can find a path forward.

“We are willing to negotiate with him on an infrastructure package, and this trillion-dollar number is way too high for me,” Sen. Roger F. Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who is expected to be at the meeting, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

He said negotiations need to be different from the talks on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which Democrats muscled through Congress without Republican support.

The $2.3 trillion package is only the first part of what Mr. Biden calls “jobs” and “family” plans. His second round of infrastructure spending is expected to target health care and child care, pushing the combined price tag closer to $4 trillion.

Republicans balk at the lavish spending on social welfare programs that make up 70% of Mr. Biden’s first infrastructure package and the roughly $2.5 trillion in tax increases to pay for the plan.

“I can’t think of a worse tax to put on the American people than to raise taxes on small-business job creators, which is what this bill would do,” Mr. Wicker said.

The spending side of Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $620 billion for transportation infrastructure, $650 billion for universal broadband, clean water, upgrades to the electric grid and affordable housing, $400 billion for caregiving initiatives for seniors and the disabled, and $580 billion for manufacturing, training, and research and development.

To pay for the plan, Mr. Biden outlined a suite of $2.5 trillion worth of tax increases, which include increasing the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said he does not support that level.

Mr. Biden and his team say the definition of “infrastructure” needs to be rethought, given the need to expand rural broadband, combat climate change and compete with China and other world powers.

“What is infrastructure?” Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said on “This Week.” “Historically, it’s been what makes the economy move. … You need to make sure that people can actually go to work if they have an aging parent or a child. As the president said this week, that infrastructure evolves to meet the American people’s aspirations.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said on the program that Mr. Biden is lying about what his plan holds.

“This is the care economy. This is care infrastructure. It’s baloney,” Mr. Christie said. “If Donald Trump had come out and called a dog a cat, which is what Joe Biden’s doing, we would be outraged by the fact that he’s lying. But with Joe Biden, somehow it’s like, ‘Oh well, come on, it’s Joe.’ No, no, no, no. It’s not true.”

Ms. Granholm and Mr. Buttigieg, two Cabinet secretaries whom the president tapped to sell the plan, said Mr. Biden wants movement on the package by Memorial Day.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, set an informal target date of July 4 to get the package through the House and said Congress plans to split Mr. Biden’s priorities into multiple bills.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in an interview that aired Sunday that the U.S. economy is on the verge of a major rebound and the biggest risk to the recovery is a possible resurgence of COVID-19.

“What we’re seeing now is really an economy that seems to be at an inflection point,” Mr. Powell said for CBS’s “60 Minutes.” “And that’s because of widespread vaccination and strong fiscal support, strong monetary policy support.

“We feel like we’re at a place where the economy’s about to start growing much more quickly and job creation coming in much more quickly, so the principal risk to our economy right now really is that the disease would spread again,” he said.

Mrs. Pelosi rejected the notion that the gathering momentum is reason to pump the brakes on plowing trillions of dollars into the economy.

“It’s exciting to see people thinking we’re out and this or that, but crowded venues and no mask-wearing and the rest are not a positive sign about how we crush the virus,” the speaker said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Overwhelmingly, this bill is about infrastructure in the traditional sense of the word.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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