Senate Republicans made a $928 billion counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s sweeping infrastructure proposal Thursday morning as one of the President’s closest advisers rallies allies to embrace the White House’s proposals.
The group of Senate Republicans negotiating with Biden on infrastructure unveiled their latest infrastructure counter-proposal Thursday morning, just ahead of the latest effort from the President to put the spotlight back on his sweeping economic agenda. The offer falls short of the $1 trillion that Senate Republicans had said Biden was open to during their White House negotiations.
According to a document obtained by CNN, the GOP offer includes $506 billion for roads, bridges and major projects; $98 billion for public transit systems; $46 billion for passenger and freight rail; $21 billion for safety; $22 billion for ports and waterways; $56 billion for airports; $22 billion for western water storage; $72 billion for water infrastructure; $65 billion for broadband infrastructure; and $20 billion for infrastructure financing.
The President said Thursday that he plans to meet with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who’s leading the Senate GOP’s negotiating team, next week about the counteroffer.
“I haven’t had a chance yet to go over the details of the counteroffer made by Capito. We’re going to meet sometime next week, and we’ll see if we can move that, and I’ll have more to say about that at the time,” Biden told reporters on the tarmac before departing for Cleveland.
The GOP’s counteroffer is a sign that bipartisan talks will continue, but Republicans and the White House are still far apart on new spending for infrastructure and how to pay for it all. It’s unclear how much closer the two sides can get in order to reach a deal ahead of Congress’ return on June 7.
White House pressing for more
The offer comes as Mike Donilon, senior adviser to Biden and one of his closest aides, told allies in an internal memo obtained by CNN that the moment is “an inflection point” for the future of both the economy and country.
Donilon sought to directly counter GOP objections to both the scale of Biden’s proposal, as well as the corporate tax increases he has proposed to pay for it.
“When Republicans criticize the President’s plan to rebuild our economy through long-overdue investments in our country’s infrastructure, they’re criticizing what their own constituents have been urging for decades,” Donilon wrote in the memo circulated Thursday morning. “When they attack the President’s plan to make the wealthy pay their share of taxes, they’re attacking the American people’s basic sense of fairness.”
Biden traveled to Cleveland on Thursday to pitch his economic proposals at a critical moment in the bipartisan negotiations over a potential infrastructure deal.
“We’ve turned the tide on a once-in-a-century pandemic. We turned the tide on a once-in-a-generation economic crisis, and families are beginning to be able to breathe just a little bit easier. We still have work to do, but our future today is as bright and as wide open as it ever has been,” Biden said, speaking from Cuyahoga Community College.
He continued: “And now we’re faced with the question: What kind of economy are we going to build for tomorrow?”
Biden noted Cuyahoga Community College was the site of the last rally he was scheduled to hold as a candidate in March 2020 before the pandemic shut down the nation. He touted his administration’s response to the pandemic and the rapid progress the nation has made since that rally was canceled, with 50% of American adults having now been vaccinated against Covid-19.
In addition to the national vaccination program, Biden touted the sweeping $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief law that delivered economic relief directly to Americans and businesses.
The President held up a list of Republican lawmakers who have touted the investments from the Covid-19 relief law, or the American Rescue Plan, joking that he wouldn’t name names, but saying: “Some people have no shame.” Not a single Republican voted for the Covid-19 relief bill in Congress.
Biden pressed for large-scale infrastructure investments, including in research and development, arguing: “We must be number one in the world to lead the world in the 21st century. … And the starting gun has already gone off – we can’t afford to fall any further behind.”
“The bottom line is this: The Biden economic plan is working. We’ve had record job creation. We’re seeing record economic growth. We’re creating a new paradigm, one that rewards the working people of this nation, not just those at the top,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that the White House was “grateful” to Capito for the proposal, which she said “substantially increased the funding level.”
“At first review, we note several constructive additions to the group’s previous proposals, including on roads, bridges and rail,” Psaki wrote. “At the same time, we remain concerned that their plan still provides no substantial new funds for critical job-creating needs, such as fixing our veterans’ hospitals, building modern rail systems, repairing our transit systems, removing dangerous lead pipes, and powering America’s leadership in a job-creating clean energy economy, among other things.”
The state of play
After weeks of back and forth, with no clear pathway toward an agreement to this point, the Senate Republican group’s counteroffer is the latest flashpoint.
Biden, whose most recent proposal was $1.7 trillion, has indicated he’d be open to discussing a $1 trillion plan, senators have told CNN. But the disputes up to this point go far beyond the overall cost, with sharply different views over the scale of any potential compromise proposal and how it would be paid for continuing to serve as major roadblocks.
Biden has made clear, both publicly and privately to advisers and allies, he sees value to striking a scaled back bipartisan deal, even if it means pushing off elements of his initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal until a later effort. But he’s also made clear he’s not willing to sharply scale back the full scope of his proposal.
But the White House and Republicans remain miles apart. One of the reasons for that is the fact that congressional Republicans are still offering a smaller amount of new spending than the White House wants. According to Republican aides, that number is around $257 billion, which is far from the White House’s offer last week.
In their offer Thursday, Republicans doubled down that they want to pay for this plan using unspent Covid relief funding, user fees from electric cars and the existing gas tax. But, the White House views unspent Covid relief funds as a nonstarter because they argue much of that money has already been spent. Republicans, meanwhile, still are not budging on making any changes to their 2017 tax bill.
Psaki essentially dismissed the idea of using Covid relief funds in a statement later on Thursday.
“The American Rescue Plan is working exactly as intended – delivering relief to families, businesses, and communities to bridge our economy to the end of the pandemic and into a strong recovery,” she said in a statement, adding, “major provisions of the law for state and local governments, K-12 schools, higher education institutions, and child care providers have been almost entirely allocated. Local governments, schools, and other entities are already budgeting for this year and beyond with these funds.”
The definition of infrastructure also remains a sticking point. The GOP proposal doesn’t make any concessions on the idea that they want this bill to be physical infrastructure only. While they increased their offer in some areas, they didn’t adjust for the fact that the Biden team has continued to include pieces of home care in their proposal.
One potential pathway to agreement is incorporating parts of the Republican offer into the five-year highway bill from Sens. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat and longtime Biden ally, and Capito that passed committee unanimously this week. This could be bipartisan “deal” that would satisfy key Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, and allow for the White House to pursue what’s left of its agenda through reconciliation.
The aggressive strategy is all meant to pass policies the White House argues are popular. Donilon used the memo to hammer home a key point White House officials have been trying to impart on allies for months: the proposals Biden has put on the table are largely supported, according to polling. Donilon cites more than a dozen polls in the memo to make that point – one officials view as leverage in their negotiations with Republicans.
“The American people – across the political spectrum – are sending a clear message, the question now is whether Congressional Republicans will listen,” Donilon writes.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.