Top aides to Joe Biden have been secretly in contact with several Republican senators who last week offered a $468 billion counterproposal to the president’s $1.8 trillion infrastructure bill.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti, and legislative affairs director Louisa Terrell have met in person or been on the phone with several GOP senators trying to find some common ground on what both sides agree is a pressing problem: our crumbling roads and bridges as well as other aging municipal systems like sewers and water.
Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and John Hoeven of North Dakota have both met with the Biden officials, according to Axios.
One idea is reaching a bipartisan deal on “Part I” of Biden’s infrastructure package — the parts that Republicans consider “traditional” infrastructure, such as funding for roads, bridges and airports.
That could force Democrats to tackle the second part, focused on child care, health care and climate change, via budget reconciliation.
The talks remain preliminary, the senators told Axios, and both sides are far from reaching any substantial deal.
Dollar-wise, the two sides probably aren’t very far apart. There has been talk about funding an infrastructure bill since the Obama administration.
But Biden’s $1.8 trillion monstrosity has little to do with “infrastructure.” The GOP is calling out Biden’s lies by offering a “true” infrastructure bill — $468 billion to states that would fund highway and road improvements. Some Republicans would even support raising gas taxes to pay for it.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers endorsed a report that includes raising the gasoline tax as a possible way to pay for infrastructure spending, lending support to a measure that both Republican and Democratic proposals have avoided in the debate about how to cover the cost of an infrastructure package.
The report from the group of 58 lawmakers, dubbed the Problem Solvers Caucus, proposed indexing gas and diesel taxes to inflation, highway construction costs, fuel-economy standards, or some combination of the three in a report on infrastructure released Friday. It lays out several possible fee increases, including a vehicle-miles traveled tax that would collect revenue from electric vehicles. Congress hasn’t raised the gas tax, which stands at 18.4 cents a gallon, since 1993.
“He [Biden] is very open to hearing different ideas, hearing different ways to get these — these big ideas he’s put forward; this historic investment to modernize our infrastructure, create millions of jobs forward,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently told reporters. “The mechanisms for that, the construction of it, the pieces that it could flow through — he’s very open to what that looks like.”
Republicans have somewhat trapped themselves, vowing not to support Biden’s infrastructure bill because it isn’t about infrastructure. But those roads and bridges are not going to repair themselves and the nearly half-trillion dollars the Republicans are proposing to begin to address the problem is a good start.
The problem for the Republicans is their base, which is in no mood to give a helping hand to Joe Biden and the Democrats no matter how urgent the problem is. Any acknowledgment that there’s even a problem is tantamount to betrayal. Any deal reached will be a “surrender.”
Of course, when the shoe was on the other foot and the GOP was in power during the Trump years, the Democrats did all they could to sabotage the president’s agenda. Obviously, this is not the way to govern a great big grown-up industrialized nation of 330 million people. But you can’t get anything done in Washington when lawmakers insist on feces-flinging rather than serving the people.