Republicans boost infrastructure counteroffer to $928 billion

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled a new infrastructure offer on Thursday that would spend $928 billion over eight years to revitalize America’s roads, bridges and broadband systems but still falls well short of President Joe Biden’s last proposal.

The plan, from a group of six Republicans led by Senator Shelley Moore Capito, represents their counter-offer to a week-old $1.7 trillion White House proposal that removed more than $500 billion from Biden’s original $2.25 trillion plan in a bid to reach a bipartisan agreement.

Capito said the offer delivers on the outline of a prospective infrastructure deal that Biden laid out during a May 13 meeting at the White House, where Republicans say he mentioned spending $1 trillion over eight years.

“Senate Republicans continue to negotiate in good faith,” Capito, top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, told a news conference while flanked by members of her negotiating team.

A Biden administration official said later that the proposal was being considered seriously.

A primary reason for the gap between the two sides is that each has a different definition of “infrastructure.” Republicans want the bill limited to physical assets, such as roads, airports and pipes, while the White House aims to include social spending programs and education.

Biden has imposed an unofficial end-of-May deadline on the negotiations, and some Senate Democrats have been pushing to go it alone if Republicans do not reach an agreement soon.

In a memo addressed to the president, the Senate Republicans expressed readiness to continue talking into June.

“Your most recent offer leaves us far apart, and coupled with your Memorial Day deadline, leaves little time to close the gap,” the memo said. “We believe that we can reach a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure … We look forward to continuing our discussions around this framework.”

The Republican proposal includes $506 billion for roads, bridges and major projects, with another $98 billion allocated to public transit. Just $257 billion of the funds represented an increase over existing spending plans.

Republicans proposed using funds previously authorized for COVID-19 relief to fill a $575 billion gap between expected revenue from the U.S. Highway Trust Fund and the offer’s $928 billion top line.


Senator Roy Blunt said Republicans are willing to consider other means of paying for the plan, including a fee on electric vehicles and nearly $350 billion in “public-private” investments identified by business leaders.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre had rejected the idea of repurposing already-authorized COVID-19 funding for infrastructure.

“We should also be clear that there are simply not hundreds of billions of dollars in COVID-relief funds available to repurpose,” Jean-Pierre said.

Senator Pat Toomey rejected that argument at Thursday’s news conference: “Repurposing these funds needs to be a really important part of how we fill this gap … there’s more than we need.”

Reaction among Senate Democrats was mixed.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper said he was encouraged by the proposal and called for negotiations to continue.

Other Democrats flatly rejected the idea of using COVID-19 relief money for infrastructure as a non-starter, while Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown called the offer too small: “We want to go big, the public wants us to go big. They need to pay attention to what the public wants.”

Capito warned that any decision to move forward on a Democratic infrastructure plan without Republican support could have consequences for legislation down the road. “A partisan reconciliation process would be destructive to our future bipartisan attempts,” the West Virginia Republican said.

Senate Democrats could pass a bill without Republican votes through a process called reconciliation that bypasses the chamber’s rule that requires most legislation to have 60 votes to pass. They did so earlier in the year to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.

But with the chamber divided 50-50, every Democratic senator would have to agree to the maneuver. Multiple moderates have raised concerns about using reconciliation again.

The White House has expressed willingness to negotiate on some of the finer details but has said it wants a large package that expands the definition of infrastructure to include items such as free community college and paid family leave.

To pay for it, the administration has said it is open to any ideas as long as they don’t include asking Americans earning less than $400,000 to pick up the bill.

Republicans initially proposed a $568 billion, five-year plan and increased the top line to around $800 billion over eight years when the two sides met on Capitol Hill on May 18, according to the lawmakers.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Cornwell, Jarrett Renshaw, Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)

Republicans unveil $568 billion infrastructure package to counter Biden

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Republicans on Thursday proposed a $568 billion, five-year infrastructure package as a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s sweeping $2.3 trillion plan, calling their measure a good-faith effort toward bipartisan negotiations.

The proposal, which falls below even the range of $600 billion to $800 billion that Republicans floated earlier in the week, focuses narrowly on traditional infrastructure projects and broadband access.

It drew a mixed response from Democrats, who narrowly control both chambers of Congress. Some Democrats dismissed it as inadequate to the task of repairing America’s infrastructure and reliant on user fees that would penalize working people.

The Republican plan would not result in higher taxes but be fully paid for with user fees on electric vehicles and other items, unspent federal funds and possible contributions from state and local governments.

“This is the largest infrastructure investment that Republicans have come forward with,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who has helped lead the effort as top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“We see this as an offer that’s on the table and deserves a response,” the West Virginia lawmaker told a news conference.

Republicans sent the proposal to Biden on Thursday, before unveiling the package, which represents less than one-quarter of the Democratic president’s plan.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had no immediate comment on the Republican proposal, but told reporters: “Any infrastructure proposal has to be green and cannot be paid for on the backs of working people.”

Biden, who asked Republicans this week to offer a counterproposal by mid-May, proposed an infrastructure plan that includes not only traditional infrastructure projects but seeks to alter the course of the U.S. economy by addressing climate change and expanding human services such as care of the elderly.

Republicans have opposed the size and scope of the Biden proposal, as well as its plan to pay for spending by raising taxes on U.S. corporations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the new proposal “has the potential to be a reasonable and bipartisan alternative and we’re hoping that Democrats are interested in doing something along those lines.”


But it could also form the basis of a two-track infrastructure process that would include a smaller bipartisan bill and a larger measure that Democrats could move through Congress without Republican votes.

“It’s a starting point,” said Senator Joe Manchin, who has insisted that Democrats work with Republicans on infrastructure. “I’m sure that we can find a compromise.”

Manchin, a moderate Democrat from heavily Republican West Virginia, is a critical swing vote in the Senate.

Biden has proposed $650 billion for roads, rail and transport, but that portion of his plan also includes a $174 billion investment in electric vehicles that is absent from the Republican framework.

Republicans would spend $299 billion on roads and bridges, $65 billion on broadband, $61 billion on public transit systems, $44 billion in airports, $35 billion on drinking water and wastewater systems, $20 billion on rail, $17 billion on ports and inland waterways, $14 billion on water storage and $13 billion on transportation and pipeline safety.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey said state and local governments that are flush with tax revenues and COVID-19 relief funding could also be asked to help pay for infrastructure projects.

Biden and his Democratic allies in Congress could need Republican support to get infrastructure through the Senate and House of Representatives.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)