CHARLESTON, W.Va. — U.S. Senate Republicans unveiled Thursday a counteroffer to the White House’s infrastructure plan, which includes $257 billion in new spending on issues such as roads and water systems.
The eight-year, $928 billion proposal comes after the Biden administration offered last week to reduce its American Jobs Plan from nearly $2.3 trillion to $1.7 trillion and amid concerns both sides have drifted further apart on reaching a compromise.
The Republican senators initially offered a five-year, $568 billion legislative framework, sparking discussions between the White House and lawmakers.
“We’ve had a lot of good dialogue with the White House. We’re trying to get to that common goal of reaching a bipartisan infrastructure agreement that we talked about with the president several weeks ago and I talked to him previous to that,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said during a press conference.
Capito is leading Republican senators on negotiations; Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi are also involved in discussions.
The senators visited Biden at the White House on May 13, in which both sides shared a desire to reach a bipartisan agreement. Conversations with Cabinet members and White House officials have taken place since the in-person meeting, although with little success.
“We believe that this counteroffer delivers on what President Biden told us that day, and that is to try to reach somewhere near $1 trillion over an eight-year period of time that would include our baseline spending,” Capito said.
The new Republican plan would dedicate $506 billion for transportation infrastructure, $72 billion for water systems, and $65 billion for broadband improvements. The original framework included $299 billion for transportation infrastructure and $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater systems.
Republican senators Thursday emphasized using unused federal dollars — including unutilized coronavirus relief funds — for supporting portions of the plan.
“With regard to repurposing funding from previous COVID relief packages, the Department of Health and Human Services has already demonstrated the Administration’s willingness to repurpose billions of dollars Congress approved for testing and supplying the strategic stockpile, to address a completely unrelated matter on our southern border,” the senators wrote in a memo to President Joe Biden.
“We can identify funding from these packages that is no longer needed as we emerge from the pandemic, or that is not slated to be spent for several years – if at all.”
Legislators have previously mentioned changes in user fees and consumer payments as others tools for generating revenue and stressed opposition toward making changes to the 2017 tax law, which would include increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% and other raises impacting the richest Americans.
“We believe that the 2017 tax reform contributed significantly to enabling us to achieve the best economy of my lifetime, and that’s no small thing,” Toomey argued Thursday during the press conference. “We’re not interested in undoing the provisions in the tax reform that allowed us to get there.”
The White House and Republicans have spoken favorably about reaching a bipartisan agreement, with senators on Thursday recognizing legislative efforts to pass legislation on drinking water and transportation. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — which Capito is its ranking member — unanimously approved a $311 billion transportation bill on Wednesday.
“Getting the highway bill passed out of committee is an enormous impetus, and I think shows if we work it well and consider everybody’s different points of view, we can get to a bipartisan product,” Capito told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Capito has also been talking to other senators, including West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin; Sens. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Manchin are part of a small group creating their infrastructure blueprint with an emphasis on traditional infrastructure projects.
“I’m at the point now where I think that all ideas should be welcome,” she said. “If we can keep this momentum going, we really could see something happen here.”
Biden called Capito following the Thursday press conference, and both sides are expected to meet next week to continue negotiations.
“Though there are no votes in Congress next week, we will work actively with members of the House and Senate next week, so that there is a clear direction on how to advance much needed jobs legislation when Congress resumes legislative business during the week of June 7,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.