By Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican leaders told President Joe Biden on Wednesday they oppose any tax hikes to fund an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, in a blow to the Democrat’s plans to spend trillions of dollars on U.S. infrastructure, education and childcare.
In their first White House meeting since Biden took office in January, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Republican leader Kevin McCarthy signaled a willingness to work with the president on infrastructure but drew the line at tax increases.
That is a setback to the White House’s efforts to have Congress approve a $2.25 trillion infrastructure bill and a $1.8 trillion education and childcare plan.
“You won’t find any Republicans who are gonna go raise taxes. I think that’s the worst thing you can do in this economy,” McCarthy said after the talks in the Oval Office. He cited rising gas prices as a reason not to back tax increases.
McConnell said Republicans were “not interested” in reopening a 2017 reform that cut taxes under former President Donald Trump.
“We both made that clear to the president. That’s our red line,” McConnell said.
Biden’s pandemic recovery plans have met with sharp resistance from Republicans in Congress, with disagreements over the price tag, scope and funding proposals. Those plans, and Biden’s intention to tax wealthy Americans and companies to cover the cost, are popular with voters from both parties.
Recent history does not augur well for a deal. No Republican voted for Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that passed in March. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat, said Tuesday that the Biden administration was “not going to wait a long time if we don’t see that agreement is possible.”
Asked in the Oval Office on Wednesday how he expected to come to a compromise, Biden quipped that he would just “snap my fingers.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden did not seek to raise taxes on working Americans.
“His bottom line is that inaction is unacceptable, and that he is not going to raise taxes on the American people who are making less than $400,000 a year, but he’s open to a range of proposals,” she told a briefing.
Biden has said he wants to raise the U.S. corporate tax rate to between 25% and 28%, from 21%, to pay for badly needed infrastructure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said she felt more optimistic about prospects for a bipartisan infrastructure bill after the meeting, which she attended.
“We have a different set of values. But what we did agree in the meeting is: Let’s agree on what we’re trying to achieve. And then we can talk about how we pay for it. Let’s not lead with a disagreement. We’ll find a way because the public knows that this is necessary,” Pelosi told reporters.
McCarthy came to the White House talks shortly after leading his House Republican colleagues in expelling a member of their leadership, Liz Cheney, for rejecting Trump’s claims that Biden stole last year’s election from him through election fraud.
McCarthy, who has sought to placate Trump, cast her dismissal as necessary to unify Republicans and reclaim control of the House in 2022.
Psaki said the Republicans’ support for Trump’s false claims would not get in the way of Biden attempting to work with them.
“The president is no stranger to working with people who he disagrees with… or who he has massive fundamental disagreement with,” she said.
Congressional Democrats are giving Biden plenty of room to try to broker a deal, but they are preparing for the possibility of moving a massive spending bill along strictly party lines if Republicans do not join in negotiations, according to congressional and White House sources.
However, the Democrats in Congress may still struggle to retain the necessary support of enough of their own members to pass Biden’s spending proposals through both chambers, where they have slim majorities. They are betting the sheer volume of the spending measures will include enough attractive items to overcome any internal opposition, the sources told Reuters.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jarrett Renshaw;Writing by Alistair BellEditing by Heather Timmons, Howard Goller and Rosalba O’Brien)