Several Senate Republicans insisted on Sunday that they were open to a bipartisan deal on a narrow infrastructure plan, despite slamming the size and scope of President Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure proposal.
Biden unveiled a roughly $2 trillion dollar package in March that aims to improve the nation’s infrastructure and shift to greener energy over the next eight years, while GOP senators have floated their alternative infrastructure plan closer to $600 billion. The White House has intensified conversations with key Republicans on infrastructure in recent days, but the two sides are still far apart on the bill’s key elements, such as its price tag and corporate tax increases to pay for it – leaving a bipartisan deal on the President’s legislative priority in question.
“Now that the Republicans have put forth a reasonable offer, it’s up to the President to do a counteroffer to us,” Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
She argued that the infrastructure package will be “a test on whether President Biden is truly interested in bipartisanship. If he is, we could get there on the core infrastructure package. And by that, I mean roads, bridges, highways, rails, waterways, and of course broadband.”
White House officials on Sunday also signaled a willingness from the President to negotiate with Republicans on the size and scope of the package.
“He knows that negotiation requires comprise at some point, and that he wants to move this package forward in a bipartisan way, if that’s possible,” White House senior adviser Anita Dunn told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday, adding that for Biden, “his red line is inaction.”
White House chief of staff Ron Klain told CBS News that the administration was “starting to see some progress” in negotiations with Republicans on infrastructure.
He declined to say whether the administration and Democrats would pursue trying to pass the infrastructure package through the reconciliation process, saying, “We’re going to take this one step at a time.”
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso pointed to what he called the “trillions and trillions of dollars in reckless spending” in the Biden proposal as a key sticking point between the administration and Republicans, and later implied that some Senate Democrats may agree with him.
“I will tell you, Democrats are also getting concerned, Martha, about all of this spending and borrowing, realizing that they’re going to be held accountable in the 2022 election and some Democrats, publicly, but most privately, are saying this isn’t sustainable. We cannot continue with this reckless borrowing and spending, especially with the taxes, coming out of a pandemic,” he told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key Democratic vote in the narrowly divided Senate, expressed his concerns about key elements of the Biden plan to CNN’s Manu Raju last week.
Barrasso, who was among the group that introduced the $568 billion GOP counterproposal, said the group continues to work “closely” with the Biden administration, as well as “the other powerful Joe in Washington,” Manchin, to try to reach an agreement focused on “core infrastructure.” He said a $500 to 600 billion price tag for such a proposal is still a “massive amount,” and noted previous bipartisan successes on the issue.
“We want to work together on this administration on true infrastructure, and I think there’s a deal to be had,” he said, after criticizing Democrats for moving ahead with Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package without a single Republican vote in Congress.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican who is part of a bipartisan group that has been meeting to try to find common ground on infrastructure, echoed similar concerns about the scope of the Biden plan, while insisting that his party is open to a deal.
“If you really want roads and bridges, come where Republicans already are. If you want to give us permission to do a lot of other stuff, well, that’s a different story. Roads and bridges, we’re a lot closer than you might think,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he has also been a part of bipartisan meetings on the issue, as well as a meeting with the White House late last week.
“We’re ready to go. We want to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” he said.
Raju reported that Portman approached Biden after his joint speech to Congress on Wednesday and told him, “Don’t leave us out.”
CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.