WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden cut off negotiations Tuesday for a bipartisan deal on infrastructure with a group of six Senate Republicans, shifting his focus to a coalition of moderate senators from both parties to keep hopes alive for a compromise.
The breakdown came as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer moved ahead on planning for a parliamentary maneuver called reconciliation as a backup if those talks also fail. It would allow Democrats to approve legislation with a simple majority and no Republican support.
After weeks of meetings but little progress, Biden halted negotiations with the Republican group during a phone call with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the lead negotiator, before he leaves Wednesday morning for a trip to Europe.
“I spoke with the president this afternoon, and he ended our infrastructure negotiations,” Capito said, adding that she and fellow Republicans had been under the impression their new counter proposal met the president’s criteria that it total around $1 trillion.
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“Despite the progress we made in our negotiations, the president continued to respond with offers that included tax increases as his pay for, instead of several practical options that would have not been harmful to individuals, families and small businesses.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the latest GOP counteroffer – which Republicans increased by $50 billion last Friday to $978 billion – fell short of meeting “essential needs of our country to restore our roads and bridges, prepare us for our clean energy future, and create jobs.” The Republican proposal contained far less in new funding – around $300 million – and relied heavily on already-approved baseline infrastructure spending.
Biden thanked Capito for her “efforts and good faith conversations,” according to Psaki, but expressed “disappointment” that Republicans did not raise their offer further. Biden lowered his price tag to $1 trillion in new spending after starting at $2.25 trillion when he proposed his American Jobs Plan in March.
Still, the White House insisted they’re not giving up on a bipartisan infrastructure deal despite the negotiations crumbling.
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For the past two days, Biden has ramped up talks with a separate group of senators that includes moderate Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia as well as Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah, Rob Portman of Ohio and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. He spoke to them Tuesday.
“He urged them to continue their work with other Democrats and Republicans to develop a bipartisan proposal that he hopes will be more responsive to the country’s pressing infrastructure needs,” Psaki said.
According to Psaki, Biden plans to stay in contact with the senators by phone while he is in Europe, where he will take part in the G7 Summit in the United Kingdom and a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva next week.
Romney said the secondary group of bipartisan negotiators determined how much they want to spend and how they would fund it, but he didn’t disclose the figures.
“We have a top line number and then we’ve broken it up by category and pay-fors,” Romney said, adding that they’re looking for about 20 supporters in the Senate before making the plan public. “If we get enough people, we’ll bring it forward.”
Republicans have opposed any spending beyond roads, bridges, airports and other traditional physical infrastructure. Biden has remained committed to “social infrastructure” that includes caregiving for the disabled and elderly and investments to tackle climate change.
In a concession to Republicans, Biden last week offered not to raise the corporate tax rate as initially proposed and instead ensure corporations don’t exploit tax loopholes. He proposed beefing up tax enforcement on the country’s wealthiest earners and ensuring the largest corporations – some of which have avoided paying any taxes because of loopholes – pay at least a minimum of 15%.
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But Republicans accused Biden of still wanting to raise taxes.
“He has lots of broad requests for things that the American people don’t see as infrastructure, and he’s never backed away from his desire to continue to want to raise taxes,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “Every discussion, he keeps talking about raising taxes which are going to hurt the economy.” He also said Biden’s proposal would mean “hiring an army” of Internal Revenue Service agents to collect taxes.
Other Senate Republicans who negotiated alongside Capito are Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho. Each are ranking members of Senate committee that have jurisdiction over infrastructure spending.
Psaki said another path to pass an infrastructure package could be through legislation that House Democrats will begin drafting Wednesday.
Schumer said reconciliation is another option, although the White House has stopped short of saying that.
Such a path would mirror the way Biden won approval of his COVID-19 rescue plan in March. But Manchin and Sinema have not said whether they would back reconciliation to pass an infrastructure package. Manchin angered many on the left over the weekend when he ruled out supporting the elimination of the filibuster.
“It may well be that part of the bill that’ll pass will be bipartisan, and part of it will be through reconciliation,” Schumer said, “but we’re not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill.”
Schumer, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have each set a summer target to pass an infrastructure package.
Staff reporters Bart Jansen and Ledyard King contributed to this report. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.