Biden to host Capito on infrastructure as Dems mull ditching talks

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President Biden on Wednesday will meet with the top Republican negotiator on infrastructure spending as Democrats discuss ramming through Congress a massive spending bill that is dependent on tax hikes — and doing so without any GOP support.

Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia last week presented a $928 billion counteroffer after Biden came down to $1.7 trillion the week before. He initially proposed $2.3 trillion in spending.

There remain vast differences, however, on how to pay for the bill and what to include. Republicans refuse to consider tax increases and want to remove social spending on items such as home health care.

“[Biden] is looking forward to hosting Senator Capito on Wednesday afternoon at the White House, where they will continue their bipartisan negotiations about investing in our middle class and economic growth through infrastructure,” the White House said in a statement Tuesday.

Some Democrats want to ram Biden’s large original package through Congress without any Republican votes using budget reconciliation — as they did in March to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that the White House will decide next week whether to continue to seek compromise after Congress resumes business after a Memorial Day break.

“By the time that they return, which is June 7, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction,” Buttigieg said. “The president keeps saying, ‘Inaction is not an option’ and time is not unlimited here. The American people expect us to do something.”

Republicans argue that Biden’s opening offer contained too many extraneous items. Its largest component was $400 billion for home and community health care, followed by $174 billion for electric vehicles.

Biden’s original plan called for $115 billion for roads and bridges, $111 billion to modernize water systems, $100 billion for broadband internet expansion, $85 billion for public transit, $80 billion for Amtrak repairs and $25 billion for airports, among other items.

The latest Capito-led counterproposal recommends spending much more money — $506 billion — on roads and bridges while cutting items that are less traditionally considered infrastructure, like health care.

The latest GOP plan approximates other initial Biden asks, calling for $98 billion for public transit systems, $72 billion for water systems, $65 billion for broadband expansion, $56 billion for airports and $46 billion for passenger and freight rail.

Republicans want to pay for the bill in part by using unspent money from the $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds that passed in March. The White House insisted last week that 95 percent of pandemic stimulus funds had been obligated.

The White House has rejected a different Republican proposal to pay for the bill with user fees on new infrastructure projects. Republicans also have floated using public-private partnerships. Biden wants to pay for the bill with higher taxes on businesses and higher incomes.

Biden proposed paying for much of his separate $1.8 trillion “families” plan with a crackdown on wealthy tax cheats, which the White House claimed could raise $700 billion over 10 years. It’s unclear how seriously that idea is being weighed to pay for the infrastructure bill instead.

Republicans including Capito have said Biden himself seems more eager for a deal than his staff.

Capito told reporters last week that Biden had expressed a willingness to slash items considered by conservatives to be too loosely related to infrastructure and to accept Republican opposition to tax hikes.

“When we came out of the president’s meeting, with him, we thought we had an understanding [that] his social infrastructure is off. They didn’t take any of that off … And that we couldn’t do it by raising taxes. They still have that in there,” Capito said.

In February, just four days after hosting 10 Republican senators to discuss COVID-19 relief, Biden said it was an “easy choice” to move ahead without them and the bill became law without a single GOP vote.

Budget reconciliation allows Senate Democrats, who control the evenly divided chamber with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking ties, to avoid the usual 60-vote threshold for legislation.

However, Democrats face internal divisions, increasing the appeal of compromise and making it less than certain they could force through a bill without any Republicans.

In the House, where Democrats hold an eight-seat advantage, a trio of metro-area legislators — Reps. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) and Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) — say they won’t agree to any changes in the tax code unless the $10,000 “SALT cap” is eliminated. The cap since 2017 has limited the amount of state and local taxes that residents of high-tax jurisdictions like New York and New Jersey can deduct before paying federal taxes, and its repeal wasn’t in Biden’s new proposals.

And in the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose vote alone could derail the infrastructure and “families” bills, said he’s “very uncomfortable” with the amount of spending being proposed.

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