Infrastructure Talks Could Set Course of Biden Spending Plans

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WASHINGTON—President Biden faces a crucial test this week of whether he can find any common ground with Republicans as he pushes trillions in spending on infrastructure, child care and education. The president is hosting top lawmakers at the White House to chart a path forward amid mounting GOP opposition to […]

WASHINGTON—President Biden faces a crucial test this week of whether he can find any common ground with Republicans as he pushes trillions in spending on infrastructure, child care and education.

The president is hosting top lawmakers at the White House to chart a path forward amid mounting GOP opposition to his agenda and calls from some Democrats to move his proposals through Congress without Republican support.

The president has called for more than $4 trillion in spending across two proposals: a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan centered on fixing roads and bridges, expanding broadband internet access and boosting funding for research and development, and a $1.8 trillion plan that would extend the expanded child tax credit, and provide for tuition-free community college and prekindergarten. The plans would be paid for through increased taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden will hold his first formal meeting since taking office with top congressional leaders: House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

(D., Calif.), House Minority Leader

Kevin McCarthy

(R., Calif.), Senate Majority Leader

Chuck Schumer

(D., N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader

Mitch McConnell

(R., Ky.). The meeting will touch on several topics, but is expected to focus in part on the president’s spending proposals, White House aides said.

Mr. Biden is also planning to meet at the White House on Thursday with

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito

(R., W.Va.) and a group of Republican senators who have proposed a $568 billion infrastructure plan. That measure is a narrower alternative to Mr. Biden’s plan, which would spend $2.3 trillion over eight years on programs and services that go beyond physical infrastructure, among them home care for seniors and technology and manufacturing research.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and other GOP lawmakers have made a narrower infrastructure proposal.


Michael Brochstein/Zuma Press

While the White House has held a series of previous meetings with lawmakers on infrastructure, the coming round of talks could indicate whether Democrats and Republicans can ultimately find a path toward a compromise. Mrs. Pelosi has set July 4 as an informal target for passing infrastructure legislation in the House, though some Democratic aides expect that timeline to slip.

Slower-than-expected job growth in April and recent concerns about inflation have hardened Republican opposition to Mr. Biden’s proposals.

In remarks at local events in Kentucky last week, Mr. McConnell inveighed against the breadth of Mr. Biden’s agenda, attacking the tax increases and proposed spending.

Facing repeated questions about divisions among House Republicans over former President

Donald Trump’s

role in the Republican party, Mr. McConnell said his focus was on unifying the GOP against Mr. Biden’s ambitious agenda. He said he was open to roughly $600 billion in infrastructure spending.

“My hope is that if the president is unable to convince the narrow Democratic majority in the House and the 50-50 Senate to pass the $4.1 trillion bill, we can sit down and have a serious conversation,” Mr. McConnell said Thursday.


Bill Cassidy

(R., La.), one of the Republican senators who is working to find a compromise on infrastructure legislation, said he believes Mr. McConnell and other GOP congressional leaders would support a bipartisan infrastructure deal.

“On infrastructure, he has made it clear, if we can find something that actually spends money on infrastructure, roads and bridges, imagine that, as opposed to what the Biden plan does, which is spend a trillion on things which have no relationship to infrastructure, we can cut a deal,” Mr. Cassidy said of Mr. McConnell in a Sunday interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Some Democrats have questioned how Republicans presented the $568 billion in spending in their two-page infrastructure outline, saying that it includes baseline federal transportation funding in its total. The White House plan calls for spending on top of that baseline, meaning the gap between the two parties’ proposals may be even wider than it appears.

“I don’t believe that that is a serious proposal,” said

Rep. Norma Torres

(D., Calif.), one of the lawmakers who has recently met with Mr. Biden at the White House.

Not only would a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure force each party to compromise on the amount of spending, it would also require them to agree on how to pay for the package.

Republicans have dismissed Mr. Biden’s tax proposals as a nonstarter, calling for the government to rely on unspecified user-fee increases and existing government funds to pay for new infrastructure spending. The White House is opposed to raising user fees to pay for the plan, though some Democrats have said user-fee increases should be part of an infrastructure plan.

As talks on infrastructure progress, though, Democrats are largely writing off the possibility of finding a bipartisan agreement on Mr. Biden’s $1.8 trillion plan on education and child care, given stark Republican opposition to expanding the social safety net.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he is open to about $600 billion in infrastructure spending.


samuel corum/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The impasse over taxes and the GOP criticism of much of Mr. Biden’s agenda means Democrats will likely resort to a budget maneuver called reconciliation to try to move the proposals through Congress. Some Democrats have floated the possibility of passing an infrastructure package with Republican support before moving to a broader bill along party lines, though other lawmakers have said they opposed that option.

To begin the reconciliation process, Democrats first have to either approve a new budget resolution or possibly edit an existing one, steps that aides said could be weeks away.

In the narrowly divided House and Senate, nearly unanimous support from rank-and-file Democrats will be necessary to approve Mr. Biden’s agenda through reconciliation. While some Democrats push for more ambitious steps in the legislation, others are skeptical of the scope of the spending and tax increases.

Democrats have raised questions both about Mr. Biden’s proposals to raise the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, with some saying they favor a rate of 25%, and his plan to raise taxes on capital gains to 43.4% from 23.8% for households making more than $1 million. Others have questioned the need to cover the full cost of the packages with tax increases.

Mr. Biden said last week he would accept a 25% corporate rate, while also drawing a red line on deficit spending, telling reporters the proposals must be paid for. “I’m not willing to deficit spend,” he said.

But the White House later walked back the deficit spending comments, saying he didn’t intend to announce a new position on the issue. “The only red line he continues to have is inaction,” a White House official said in response to Mr. Biden’s remarks.


Will President Biden be able to generate bipartisan support for the infrastructure plan? Why or why not? Join the conversation below.

Mr. Biden said the weaker-than-expected jobs report released Friday made passage of his proposals more urgent, while Republicans said it showed that the president’s policies weren’t working. GOP lawmakers have raised concerns that expanded jobless benefits were overly generous and discouraging work.

The $1.8 trillion child care, education and paid leave proposal Mr. Biden unveiled last month says the administration wants to work with Congress to make changes to the unemployment insurance system, including creating automatic triggers for more robust benefits based on economic conditions. But the White House hasn’t yet released a detailed proposal on the issue. The coronavirus relief law includes $2 billion to modernize the unemployment insurance system.

Administration officials said they have conducted hundreds of calls and briefings with lawmakers and their staff about Mr. Biden’s infrastructure and families plans.

Write to Andrew Duehren at [email protected]

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