Republicans Look to Slash the Size of Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

Working to avoid being cut out of the process, they presented a $568 billion blueprint that is a fraction of the size of President Biden’s proposal.,

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WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday offered a $568 billion counterproposal to President Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, laying out a marker they hoped would kick-start bipartisan negotiations to vastly scale back the president’s plan and do away with the corporate tax increases he is eyeing to pay for it.

But while the White House welcomed the outline as a positive step, there was little sign that Mr. Biden or Democrats in Congress would embrace anything close to a package that many of them dismissed as insufficient for the economy’s needs and an unfair burden on middle-class taxpayers.

Republicans are working to avoid the fate that befell them with Mr. Biden’s first big economic initiative, a nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Democrats pushed through Congress over their vigorous objections, as polls showed it was wildly popular with the public.

Eager to put their party’s stamp on that plan, a group of moderate Republicans trekked to the White House to offer an alternative one-third the size of Mr. Biden’s, and left optimistic that a bipartisan negotiation would follow. Instead, they found themselves quickly cast aside as Democrats used the fast-track budget reconciliation process to shield their own package from a filibuster and pass the plan solely with Democratic votes.

This time, Republicans have put forth a plan that is a fraction of the size of Mr. Biden’s, and the story could be on track to repeat itself.

With the president professing interest in G.O.P. input on his infrastructure plan, Republicans are concerned that Mr. Biden will once again cut them out of the process, fretting his Oval Office audiences with them could be short-lived attempts at bipartisanship. Still, many are wary of being painted as unwilling negotiators on yet another major economic package.

Republicans said they hoped the two-page outline released on Thursday, which they said would provide for five years’ worth of funding for roads, bridges, airports, ports and broadband, would serve as a starting point for genuine negotiations with the White House and congressional Democrats. Several critical details, including specifics on how to pay for the plan, remained unclear.

Most notably, Republicans did not give specifics about how much of the plan represented new spending. Just over half of the plan appears to be an expected reauthorization of current programs, while the $2.3 trillion outlined in the Biden plan is new funding intended to supplement those expected funds. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, said at a news conference on Thursday that Republicans were working with the White House “to square the figures.”

At the White House, Jen Psaki, the press secretary, declined to weigh in on the substance of the skeletal blueprint.

“We certainly welcome any good-faith effort, and certainly see this as that,” she said. “But there are a lot of details to discuss and a lot of exchanges of ideas to happen over the coming days.”

The Republicans’ framework covers a far narrower swath of infrastructure projects than Mr. Biden’s. It would allocate $299 billion to roads and bridges — more than double the figure the president proposed — and set aside $61 billion for public transit, $44 billion for airports, $65 billion in broadband infrastructure, $20 billion for rail and $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater.

It does not include several provisions Mr. Biden singled out, including efforts to combat climate change and money to support providers of in-home care for older and disabled Americans. (Ms. Capito said she expected climate measures would be incorporated should negotiations begin with the White House.)

ImageWorkers in California installing new pipes this month. The Republicans' plan would focus on things like water systems and roads, rather than President Biden's more expansive agenda.
Workers in California installing new pipes this month. The Republicans’ plan would focus on things like water systems and roads, rather than President Biden’s more expansive agenda.Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“I think it’s important for you all to realize that this is the largest infrastructure investment that Republicans have come forward with,” said Ms. Capito, who helped draft the proposal as the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “This is a robust package.”

Ms. Capito, joined by Senators Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said the group envisioned potentially repurposing unspent funds from pandemic relief legislation and using fees imposed on people who use infrastructure, including electric vehicle drivers, to pay for the plan.

While details of any financing remained vague, they said they would not support an increase in corporate taxes, as Mr. Biden has proposed, or a repeal of the cap on the state and local tax deduction, which some Democrats have championed.

“The point is not to go out and incur new and additional debt,” Mr. Toomey said. He rejected the Democratic push to undo key elements of the tax overhaul that Republicans muscled through in 2017, arguing that Congress would not improve the national economy “by ruining the tax reform.”

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader in the House, said that he had not seen the Senate proposal, but that his conference would be preparing its own infrastructure plan. Ms. Capito said the group sent the proposal to the White House shortly before making it public.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a crucial swing vote who has said he wants any infrastructure package to be bipartisan, told reporters on Thursday that the Republican plan was “basically a negotiating starting point.”

But even before Republicans formally unveiled it, most other Democrats were panning the proposal.

“It goes nowhere near what has to be done to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and the funding is totally regressive and anti-working class,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and chairman of the Budget Committee. “At a time of massive income and wealth inequality, we’ve got to ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share, not demand more taxes on the middle class and working families.”

Mr. Biden and his team have said repeatedly that they hope to find bipartisan consensus on infrastructure this year. That includes both Mr. Biden’s existing plan and his forthcoming American Families Plan, which will center on “human infrastructure” spending like education and child care.

White House officials say they are open to breaking those proposals into smaller pieces that could pass with 10 or more Republicans joining Democrats in the Senate. Such a compromise could start with a bipartisan bill aimed at improving American competitiveness with China, which includes $100 billion in research and development spending akin to some provisions in Mr. Biden’s jobs plan. Such a slimmed-down bill could move through the Senate in the coming weeks. Some officials are also hopeful that lawmakers could pass a bipartisan highway bill, which would accomplish some of Mr. Biden’s transportation goals.

But many officials view significant compromise as unlikely, and they say Mr. Biden is unlikely to be satisfied with incremental spending agreements. That is why Democrats are also preparing to move some or most of Mr. Biden’s agenda through the budget reconciliation process if necessary, including his plans to combat climate change and his tax increases on corporations and high earners.

Business groups in Washington have pressed Republicans to engage the White House in serious negotiations, and to be willing to accept a deal that spends more than conservatives would like in a number of areas, in hopes of avoiding any rollback of the individual and corporate tax cuts that Republicans passed under President Donald J. Trump.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Republican proposal on Thursday.

“For anyone who sincerely wants to see a bold and responsible infrastructure plan finally enacted into law, there is only one path forward: bipartisan negotiations,” said Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s executive vice president and chief policy officer.

Polls show that Mr. Biden’s spending plans are popular with voters nationwide, mirroring the popularity of his economic relief bill. Some business groups have told Republican lawmakers that their only chance to avoid a repeat of what happened with that bill is to forge compromise on the most popular parts of his plans and then fight Mr. Biden on the rest.

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

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