- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2021

President Biden had a “constructive” talk about rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the Senate Republicans’ chief negotiator, the White House said Wednesday.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Capito plan to reconnect Friday.

“This afternoon, the president hosted Sen. Capito for a constructive and frank conversation in the Oval Office about how we can drive economic growth and benefit America’s middle class through investing in our infrastructure,” the White House said.

Ms. Capito’s office said after the meeting the senator is encouraged that talks have continued and that she planned to brief the other members of her negotiating team.

The senator “reiterated to the president her desire to work together to reach an infrastructure agreement that can pass Congress in a bipartisan way,” her office said.

The meeting between Mr. Biden and Ms. Capito lasted about one hour.

The president and his team have been exchanging offers with Ms. Capito and Senate Republicans on infrastructure spending.

The White House recently sent a $1.7 trillion offer to the Republicans, down from Mr. Biden’s original $2.3 trillion proposal, though the White House acknowledged that some of the “cuts” involve money that would be shifted to other legislation.

Ms. Capito and the Republicans responded with a $928 billion offer, up from an earlier $568 billion framework.

Republicans have been operating under a narrower definition of “infrastructure” — projects such as roads, bridges and highways — than Mr. Biden’s more expansive package that includes subjects ranging from climate change to elder care.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said over the weekend on CNN that there should be a “clear direction” on where things are headed by June 7.

Republicans have suggested using unspent COVID-19 relief money for infrastructure, but the White House hasn’t rushed to embrace that idea.

“One of the suggestions that we’ve made to the administration is to repurpose some of this extraordinary amount of money that’s gone out to state and local governments across the country to plug the gap between what the gas tax raises and what we would like to do on infrastructure,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told reporters Wednesday.

Mr. McConnell and other Republicans have said repeatedly they will not revisit the 2017 tax law as a way to fund the new spending. The law lowered the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and slashed individual income tax rates across the board.

Mr. Biden has received some pushback from his own party on his plan to increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to fund some of the new spending.

The White House has been cool on “user fee” proposals some Republicans have suggested, such as increasing the gasoline tax or imposing a tax on electric vehicles, saying they could violate Mr. Biden’s pledge not to increase taxes on people earning less than $400,000 per year.

Liberals on Capitol Hill say it’s time for Democrats to ditch the bipartisan talks and leverage a fast-track budget tool called “reconciliation” to muscle a package through with or without Republican votes.

“We all know they’re not gonna come around — let’s stop pretending otherwise. It’s time to go big, bold, fast and alone to deliver for people across America,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat, said on Twitter Wednesday as the meeting between Mr. Biden and Ms. Capito was wrapping up.

Democrats have effective control of the 50-50 Senate thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.

But it’s not clear what kind of package they can get through the Senate and the House, where Democrats also hold a narrow majority, if they don’t have bipartisan support.

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