Senate GOP open to higher infrastructure price tag ahead of meeting with Biden

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Senate Republicans are willing to compromise on the price tag of President Biden‘s infrastructure proposal ahead of a bipartisan White House meeting on the topic this week.

“The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about $600-to-800 billion,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Mr. McConnell’s $800 billion figure is significantly larger than the number Senate Republicans initially floated.

Last month, GOP lawmakers unveiled their “fiscally responsible” infrastructure proposal. The package called for spending only $568 billion on rebuilding the nation’s roads and bridges exclusively.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia Republican, crafted the proposal to serve as a counterweight to Mr. Biden‘s program, which is heavy on the “human” components infrastructure.

“This is a robust package when we look at where we’re focusing our infrastructure needs,” Mrs. Capito said.

The White House is proposing to spend only $612 billion of its $2.25 trillion infrastructure package on transportation. The majority of the spending offered by Mr. Biden goes to social welfare programs and climate change activism.

For instance, the administration’s plan includes more money for installing electric vehicle charging stations across the country than it does for upgrading airports ($174 billion compared to $25 billion).

Republicans argue that a national infrastructure package should stay true to the definition of the word and focus on roads, bridges and other transportation systems.

“What we’ve got here is what can best be described as a bait-and-switch,” Mr. McConnell said when discussing the administration’s proposal.

Despite the debate over what constitutes infrastructure, Senate Republicans appear eager to negotiate.

Mr. McConnell’s decision to up the price tag of what is considered acceptable comes as Mrs. Capito is set to lead a delegation of Republicans to meet with the president later this week to discuss the topic of infrastructure.

A source close to the Senate GOP said the delegation would argue a compromise on spending could be met, provided the money went to “actual infrastructure and was paid for” appropriately.

The GOP’s give and take attitude results from concerns that Democrats may opt to move the package unilaterally via the budget reconciliation process.

Currently, both parties hold 50 seats within the Senate, with Democrats only maintaining the majority because of Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote.

That reality makes it difficult to pass significant legislation given the filibuster, a legislative rule requiring 60 votes to end debate on vote on a measure. Reconciliation, however, allows legislation dealing with the topics of spending and debt to pass via a simple majority of the chamber, usually 51 votes.

The Democrats’ willingness to cut out Republicans using the process was evidenced this weekend by Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernard Sanders.

“If Republicans want to come on board, seriously, great,” said Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont, when discussing infrastructure with Axios on HBO. “If not, we’re going to do it alone.”

Democrats, though, are holding out hope that reconciliation will not be required, especially in light of Mr. McConnell’s recent comments.

“Well, [Republicans are] moving our way, that’s encouraging,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. “I think it’s time to get this done.”

Still many on Capitol Hill believe both sides are far apart on how to fund the package.

The White House is actively pushing to pay for any new infrastructure spending through tax hikes.

Mr. Biden, in particular, wants to repeal former President Donald Trump’s signature tax legislation from 2017. The move would not only raise the corporate taxes, but also income taxes on all earners.

Republicans and some moderates have balked at the idea, arguing it would adversely impact an economy already struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic. A number of lawmakers have proposed paying for the package through user fees, including taxes on gasoline.

The White House appears unwilling to rely on such means to pay for its proposal, however.

“Those are not areas where [the president] is going to move,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

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