- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2021

Biden administration negotiators on Friday presented a $1.7 trillion counter-offer to congressional Republicans in the talks over a massive new national infrastructure package.

The new offer, while less than Mr. Biden’s original $2.25 trillion proposal, did little to break the impasse between the two sides.

“In our view, this is the art of seeking common ground,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday.

She said the revised offer involved moving some money dealing with research and development, supply chains and small businesses into other legislation moving on Capitol Hill.

She said the counter-offer also reflected spending on broadband internet and roads and bridges that more closely matches Senate Republicans’ $568 billion proposal.

“This proposal exhibits a willingness to come down in size — giving on some areas that are important to the president, otherwise they wouldn’t have been in the proposal — while also staying firm in areas that are most vital to rebuilding our infrastructure [and] industries of the future,” Ms. Psaki said.

The office of Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the chief negotiator for a group of Senate Republicans, said the White House’s new offer still can’t pass Congress with bipartisan support.

“There continue to be vast differences between the White House and Senate Republicans when it comes to the definition of infrastructure, the magnitude of proposed spending, and how to pay for it,” the senator’s office said. “Based on today’s meeting, the groups seem further apart after two meetings with White House staff than they were after one meeting with President Biden.”

The counter-proposal includes $65 billion for subsidizing broadband access, down from at least $100 billion in Mr. Biden’s original plan, and $120 billion for roads, bridges, and major projects, down from at least $159 billion in the original plan. But it preserves federal spending for other controversial items in Mr. Biden’s first proposal, such as money for electric vehicles, clean energy, veterans hospital construction, and work training programs.

Sen. Ed Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said it’s clear that Republicans aren’t negotiating in good faith and that it’s a waste of time to try to court their votes.

“This is not the time for half-measures, half-spending or foot-dragging,” Mr. Markey said.

Mr. Biden wants to fund his “American Jobs Plan” by raising taxes on corporations, including increasing the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.

Ms. Psaki reiterated the president’s opposition to funding the plans through a gas tax hike or “user fees,” such as those on electric vehicles, that Republicans have floated.

Congressional Republicans say touching the 2017 Trump tax law, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% and slashed individual income tax rates across the board, is a red line for them in the talks.

Other liberal Democrats have also suggested Mr. Biden should ditch the bipartisan talks and support pushing through a bigger bill with only Democratic votes.

Congressional Democrats used a fast-track budget tool to pass Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package without a single Republican vote in March.

Kery Murakami contributed to this report.

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

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