Biden and GOP Senator speak as time runs out on infrastructure deal | News, Sports, Jobs
WASHINGTON (AP) – For nearly an hour, President Joe Biden and the Senate’s main Republican negotiating infrastructure met behind closed doors – two seasoned lawmakers engaged in another round of conversations, but emerging with little outward signs of tangible progress before a deadline next week.
The White House called Wednesday’s private meeting more of a conversation with West Virginia GOP Senator Shelley Moore Capito, rather than a formal negotiation. No new offer was to be presented. More than anything, the session in the Oval Office was seen through the political lens of the President and Republicans trying to show the public what Americans say they want – a willingness to work together, even if no deal is to be reached. at hand.
Biden and Capito had a “Constructive and frank conversation” Anonymity was granted to discuss the private talks, according to a White House official. The senator’s office said she was encouraged by the ongoing conversations. The two agreed to reconnect on Friday.
Still, talks over Biden’s legislative priority are proceeding slowly, an intimidating undertaking given the massive investment in infrastructure, and the time for a deal is running out. The administration has set a deadline of June 7 to see clear direction and signs of progress.
“The fact that the president has Senator Capito here today and has had ongoing discussions with Republicans in the Senate and is anxious to find a way forward for bipartisan work certainly tells you, I think, this that you have to know what he thinks about working with people even in the event of disagreement ”, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the afternoon session.
Privately, the President has ruled that the GOP’s latest $ 928 billion offer was unworkable, in large part because it leverages unused COVID-19 funds. Instead, Biden wants to raise the corporate tax rate – a non-starter for Senate Republicans – to generate revenue for his $ 1.7 trillion package.
The ongoing talks could take on new significance after Democrats suffered a setback on Wednesday in their efforts to try to get that priority and other Biden priorities passed on party line votes. The Senate parliamentarian signaled new limits on the number of times Democrats can use the budget reconciliation process which allows a threshold of 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes typically needed to move legislation forward. In a four-page memo, the parliamentarian made it clear that Democrats would likely have just one more opportunity to use the budget process this year, essentially shutting the door on a strategy they were considering for votes. multiple.
Friday’s next round of talks between Biden and the Republican senator would overlap with the release of the May Jobs Report, as private economists estimate a significant increase from the disappointing April figures. May’s employment figures could provide evidence as to whether Biden’s previous $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief program helped put the country on track to recover jobs lost to it. of the pandemic.
Ahead of the meeting, Capito was to relaunch GOP pressure to reallocate the coronavirus relief fund to pay for infrastructure investments, said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has tasked him with leading the talks.
“This is the key to getting a bipartite agreement”, McConnell said at a press conference in Kentucky. He said he is particularly keen to end unemployment assistance which he says prevents Americans from returning to work.
“The coronavirus is behind us. We have to get back to work. McConnell said.
Together, the president and Republicans both have political incentives to negotiate a bipartisan deal on his broad investment program, even if no deal is in sight. For Biden, reaching the other side of the aisle and making deals in Congress is central to his politics. Republicans can also gain political gain by trying to work with a popular president.
Yet an initial Memorial Day deadline passed to no avail, and in the latest round of talks, Biden and a select group of GOP senators appear to have moved further away. Democrats, who hold a slim majority in the House and Senate, watch with suspicion as the White House and Republicans try to narrow the gap between the president’s original ideas for massive investment not only in roads and bridges, but also in the “Human” infrastructure of hospitals and care facilities for children and the elderly, and a GOP approach that is more focused on traditional infrastructure projects.
The White House reduced the president’s initial offer by $ 2.3 trillion, which now stands at $ 1.7 trillion, with Biden offering to finance the investment by raising the corporate tax rate by 21 % to 28%.
Without a bipartisan deal with the Republicans, Biden will have to try and win support from Democrats alone. This approach also poses political challenges, especially in the equally divided Senate, where the administration has no voice to spare if the president tries to push through the package under budget rules that allow simple majority voting. .
Psaki played down comments Biden made on Tuesday that were seen as critical of two Democrats, presumably Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Krysten Sinema of Arizona. Speaking in Tulsa, Oklahoma, he noted Democrats who don’t always vote with the party, accusing them of delaying his platform.
Psaki said the president considers both Manchin and Sinema “Good working partners” and cited Capito’s meeting as an example of his willingness to cross the divide to resolve issues.
Biden’s own thinking is that the Republican proposal, while improved from a previous opening bid of $ 568 billion, is impractical because Republicans want to dip into unspent COVID-19 funds to pay for expenses.
The President, in meetings with his team, focused on the questions raised by the GOP proposal – namely, what coronavirus relief funds could possibly be set aside. Biden’s view is that the use of COVID-19 funds would place undue strain on the middle class, including small business owners, who are receiving help during the pandemic crisis.
For Republicans, corporate tax hikes are a red line they won’t cross. Instead, they want to pay for the infrastructure investment with virus aid money as well as gasoline taxes and other charges for consumers.
Congress is out for a week of Memorial Day recess, but faces a deadline when lawmakers return next week.
The White House said the president is also considering action in the House next week, when the Transport and Infrastructure Committee is expected to begin debating a major highway reauthorization bill that is being closely watched as part of potential construction towards the larger package.
Associated Press editors Alan Fram, Darlene Superville, and Josh Boak contributed to this report.