GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is indicating that Republicans are willing to make a deal on the $2 trillion infrastructure bill proposed by President Joe Biden as long as the bill deals specifically with “infrastructure.” Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar spendapalooza is full of goodies for his favorite special interest groups and only about a third of it is actually devoted to fixing roads, bridges, and other U.S. infratstructure.
Republicans had already proposed a $568 billion counteroffer to the president’s plan, but that proved unacceptable to the president and Democrats in Congress. However, Biden is beginning to realize that if he wants an infrastructure win, he’s going to need a sizable number of Republicans to achieve it.
As for the Republicans, giving the president a big win on infrastructure would not help their chances in 2024. But neither do they want to be seen as obstructionists. Fixing our crumbling roads and bridges while employing tens of thousands of Americans is very popular and the cost of standing in the way of that idea could prove to be worse than any downside for the GOP in 2024.
So McConnell has decided to play ball with the president — up to a point. “The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about 6-to-800 billion dollars,” he told Kentucky’s PBS TV station. That’s a far cry from $2 trillion-plus in Biden’s proposal and the radicals will reject it out of hand.
It depends on how badly Joe Biden wants an infrastructure bill.
McConnell outlined his desired spending cap ahead of Biden’s first meeting with the top four congressional leaders on Wednesday. The president is expected to discuss infrastructure with McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Biden will then meet with six Republican senators to talk about a potential compromise on Thursday. One of those lawmakers, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, led a $568 billion GOP infrastructure proposal last month.
Capito on Friday signaled Republicans could agree to a larger package. She told NBC News that the GOP plan “is not our final offer.”
Agreeing on a spending number is only half the battle. How to pay for it is another matter. And here, the GOP will have trouble convincing Biden to come off his capital gains tax increase and his “wealth tax” proposal.
Still, Republicans likely will have limits on the amount of spending they’re willing to tolerate. They want to pay for any infrastructure bill with new user fees rather than deficit spending, and Biden’s proposal to finance the measure with higher corporate taxes would mean “there will not be one Republican vote” for the package, said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
“It’s a give and take, yes,” Wicker added. He cautioned that for Republicans, “I don’t think it’s really realistic to go up much higher.” Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said that while Republicans would consider more infrastructure spending, it would require a different approach from the White House too.
“I would hope the administration is going to pare their proposal way back and really start looking at what core infrastructure is,” Fischer said.
Those “user fees” would include increasing the tax paid on gasoline at the pump — the least painful tax increase Congress could impose. But it wouldn’t bring in nearly enough money to offset spending, so Republicans are stuck with trying to raise additional cash.
The Republican base doesn’t want any part of giving Joe Biden anything. Anything less than total surrender from Biden and the Democrats would be seen as a GOP cave to the radicals. But an infrastructure bill is one of those tailor-made bipartisan political efforts; it provides money for hundreds of congressional districts and jobs aplenty. It will take a lot before both sides give up on trying to pass it.