- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2021

Republican lawmakers on Thursday said they aim to spend more than $920 billion on fixing the nation’s roads and bridges as they announced their counteroffer to President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the West Virginia Republican who has taken the lead in negotiations with the White House on the topic. “We’re trying to get to that common goal of reaching a bipartisan infrastructure agreement.”

Republicans are proposing that $506 billion of their nearly $1 trillion offer go to “roads, bridges” and other major transportation projects. Of that total, $4 billion is earmarked for electric vehicle infrastructure, a concession to Mr. Biden’s ambitions to phase out gasoline-powered cars by 2035.

The GOP plan also calls for spending $98 billion on public transit, $72 billion on shoring up the nation’s water infrastructure and $65 billion to expand broadband internet access.

The counteroffer comes after Mr. Biden lowered the price tag of his initial proposal from $2.25 trillion to $1.7 trillion. Most of the spending proposed by the White House would be new revenue generated from tax increases on corporations and the income of wealthy Americans.

Republicans, who say tax increases are a “red line” for the negotiations, want to fund the program by relying partly on unspent funds allocated for coronavirus relief.

“We’re not raising taxes,” said Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, one of the GOP negotiators. “There is a tremendous amount of money that was approved in previous [coronavirus relief] bills … trillions of dollars, and many hundreds of billions have not even been spent yet.”

The $928 billion offer is the latest in a series of back and forths between the White House and Senate Republicans.

Last month, in response to Mr. Biden’s initial $2.25 trillion package, Republicans floated a $568 billion “fiscally responsible” infrastructure proposal.

Since then, they have upped their spending threshold and compromised on some of Mr. Biden’s green energy goals, specifically adding money for electric vehicle charging stations.

Even though negotiations are continuing, little progress has been made. Both sides are divided over not only how to pay for any new spending but also on the meaning of “infrastructure.”

Mr. Biden’s proposal, even trimmed down to $1.7 trillion, focuses heavily on what Democrats call “human infrastructure,” such as job retraining for felons and more public housing.

Republicans, meanwhile, argue that infrastructure refers exclusively to the nation’s transportation systems and any proposal desiring bipartisan support will have to recognize that fact.

“This is a real offer, what we are bringing forth today,” said Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican. “This is what people … think of as infrastructure, roads with potholes that need to be fixed, waterways and airports and ports. … We think of bridges that are aging and what we can do to fix those.”

Complicating matters is that some of Mr. Biden’s fellow Democrats are pushing for an end to the talks. Democrats, in particular, want to move forward along strictly partisan lines using the budget reconciliation process, which allows spending bills to pass the Senate via a simple majority of 51 votes.

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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