Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg pushed back against fiscal concerns over President Biden’s spending plans, saying the $6 trillion budget blueprint is a “bold” and “responsible budget.”
Mr. Buttigieg is serving as a lead spokesperson for the $2.3 trillion “American Jobs Plan” that the president is promoting as a “once-in-a-generation” investment in roads, bridges and a plethora of other projects and programs that Republicans don’t see as “infrastructure.”
“This is a responsible budget and importantly all the proposals for spending and investment in this budget are paid for,” Mr. Buttigeig said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You can’t get something for nothing.”
“In the near term we know that we need to make major investments in our roads, our bridges, in our education, in our health,” he said. “We can’t afford not to do these things because for decades frankly we have been disinvesting in the things that make America strong.”
Republicans have balked at the president’s sweeping bill, calling it far too expensive and saying it goes far beyond the traditional definition of infrastructure.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia unveiled a second GOP infrastructure counteroffer last week that calls for spending $920 billion on fixing the nation’s roads and bridges.
Mr. Biden has invited Republicans for another round of talks this week, hoping to bridge the more than $1 trillion gap between the two visions.
Ms. Capito projected confidence in finding common ground on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We can get to real compromise, absolutely, because we are both still in the game,” she said.
However, Ms. Capito said “we disagree on the definition of infrastructure,” adding that the president’s push to reverse the Trump administration’s tax cuts of 2017 is a non-starter.
“We have laid out the ways to pay for this and I think it doesn’t involve raising our taxes,” she said. “We all know when you raise taxes in one place it is felt everywhere.”
Ms. Capito said some of the money included in the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that Democrats passed this year without GOP support could be “reprogrammed” to pay for infrastructure.
Mr. Buttigieg, meanwhile, downplayed the battle over the definition of infrastructure and defended the proposed tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations.
“Americans can’t wait for us to solve a dorm-room debate over which policies belong in which categories,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “They want us to just get it done.”
“It is why the president’s job’s plan is so overwhelmingly popular with the American people,” he said. “Now we are trying to get Washington to catch up and actually do something.”
The White House set Memorial Day as a deadline for “progress” to be made on a possible bipartisan infrastructure deal.
The White House has scaled back its proposal to $1.7 trillion from $2.3 trillion. Ms. Capito’s first counteroffer was $568 billion.
Mr. Biden told reporters last week that he is encouraged by the discussions, but he also signaled that he is getting impatient and wants a deal sooner rather than later.
Mr. Biden’s infrastructure push includes $115 billion for roads and bridges, $174 billion for electric vehicles, $85 billion to modernize transit, $111 billion to upgrade lead pipes and $100 billion to expand rural broadband access.
The president also is seeking $1.8 trillion for his “families plan” that would set aside $200 billion for universal free pre-K, $109 billion for free community college, $85 billion in Pell grants, $225 billion for child care and $225 billion for a national paid family medical leave program.
Republicans are proposing that $506 billion of their nearly $1 trillion offer go to “roads, bridges” and other major transportation projects. Of that figure, $4 billion is earmarked electric-vehicle infrastructure — a concession to Mr. Biden’s ambitions to phase out gas-powered cars by 2035.
The GOP plan also includes $98 billion for public transit, $72 billion to shore up the nation’s water infrastructure and $65 billion to expand broadband internet access.
Democrats could move ahead without Republican support and pass an infrastructure bill through a process known as budget reconciliation.
Mr. Buttigieg said the clock is ticking and said that negotiations need a “clear direction” by the time lawmakers return on June 7 from their week-long break.
“I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment,” Mr. Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The negotiations can’t go on forever.”