President Biden on Monday hosted Alaska Republicans at the White House ahead of a soft Memorial Day deadline for bipartisan compromise on an infrastructure bill.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, joined by Rep. Don Young, met with Biden to discuss the Last Frontier on the heels of other recent Republican delegations.
Young told reporters afterward that there was “a small amount” of talk about infrastructure negotiations. The stated purpose of the visit was a bill-signing to promote Alaska tourism.
“I do think we’ll get it done. We need an infrastructure bill. That’s the biggest challenge we have today. Do we need everything else? Not necessarily,” Young said on the White House driveway.
If they maintain unity, Democrats can ram Biden’s massive infrastructure plan — plus a complimentary $1.8 billion “families” plan — through Congress with no Republican votes under budget reconciliation rules.
Republicans broadly object to social spending and proposed tax hikes in Biden’s initial $2.3 trillion proposal, which he reduced to about $1.7 trillion last week. But many Republican are pushing for a smaller bill focused on roads, bridges and broadband internet.
Biden’s initial plan included $400 billion for home and community health care and nearly $174 billion in electric vehicle subsidies, which Republicans said should be removed.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday at her daily press briefing that Senate Republicans agreed to increase their $586 billion counteroffer by $50 billion.
“Our concessions went 10 times as far as theirs. So the ball is in their court,” Psaki said.
But on Capitol Hill, Sen. Shelley Capito (R-WVa.), who is leading Republican talks with the White House, said she was disappointed with the White House counteroffer.
Capito told reporters Monday 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.
Capito said Senate Republicans are discussing their next step.
Psaki would not say if Biden plans to ask Democrats to abandon bipartisan talks and forge forward with a one-sided package under special budget reconciliation rules if a deal isn’t reached by Memorial Day.
The holiday — next Monday — is a widely discussed soft deadline for a deal.
“The president is looking forward to seeing Sen. Murkowski later this afternoon and Congressman Young, and we’ll continue to look for ways to move forward in a bipartisan manner. We’re not quite there. We’ll do this every day and see where we go this week,” Psaki 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.
But Biden has made an effort to project sincerity in the last round of talks. He hosted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) at the White House, and also the top Republicans on Senate committees, led by Capito.
Psaki defended the social spending on Monday, saying that “what we’re just trying to do is create millions of jobs, and we’re hopeful the Republicans will put forward a proposal — come meet us somewhere in the middle, a counter proposal, that can help accomplish the same thing.”
Talks are complicated by the fact that Republicans oppose raising taxes on higher incomes, investments and businesses — as Biden proposes — to pay for the boost in spending.
Biden, meanwhile, opposes user fees for infrastructure projects — leaving few options to pay for a package, such as projected returns on a boost in audits to catch tax cheats.
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 New York-area legislators led by Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY) 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 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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