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Wednesday September 22nd, 2021 10:40AM

Biden rebuffs GOP infrastructure offer, citing broader goals

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has dismissed a fresh Republican infrastructure proposal that offered modestly more spending but fell short of “his objectives to grow the economy,” the White House said.

His reaction Friday cast further doubt on the two parties’ prospects for striking compromise on one of the administration’s chief legislative priorities as deadlines slip and time runs out to make progress toward a deal.

The White House released the statement after Biden spoke by phone with West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the chief GOP negotiator. Both sides said the two would speak again on Monday, but Biden’s team made clear the president will be casting about for talks with other senators.

“The President expressed his gratitude for her effort and goodwill, but also indicated that the current offer did not meet his objectives to grow the economy, tackle the climate crisis, and create new jobs,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

A Capito statement provided no detail about their discussion or the new offer.

Making the pitch for Republicans, Capito had suggested around a $50 billion boost above the previous Republican offer of $928 billion, the White House said, still leaving the GOP well short of the $1.7 trillion that Biden is seeking.

In a further sign that a deal with Capito was seeming increasingly less likely, the White House said Biden told Capito that he would “continue to engage a number of Senators in both parties in the hopes of achieving a more substantial package.”

For weeks, the president has been engaged in talks with GOP senators trying to strike a compromise on Biden’s top legislative a priority, the big infrastructure investment package. While the two sides appear to have narrowed the price gap between his initial $2.3 trillion proposal and the GOP’s $568 billion opening bid, they remain far apart on the scope of the deal and how to pay for it.

Biden wants to raise corporate taxes to generate revenues for the infrastructure investments, a nonstarter for Republicans. The GOP senators propose tapping unspent COVID-19 relief aid to pay for the roads, bridges and other projects, an idea rejected by Democrats.

Earlier in the day, after the release of a modest May jobs report, Biden made the case for his robust investment package to push the economy past the COVID-19 crisis and downturn, and into a new era.

“Now is the time to build on the progress we’ve made,” Biden told reporters in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. “We need to make those investments today to continue to succeed tomorrow."

After returning to the White House, Biden spoke with Capito by telephone. The White House had been eyeing a deadline early next week as Congress returns from its Memorial Day break to see progress toward a deal. Meanwhile, Democrats are setting the ground work for a go-it-alone approach. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has indicated that Biden will look to act without Republican support if there is no consensus.

Psaki downplayed any hard-set deadline Friday and said the administration continues to talk to lawmakers from both parties.

“There's runway left,” Psaki told reporters at the White House. “We’re going to keep a range of pathways open.”

Republicans are showing no interest in Biden's latest proposal for a 15% corporate minimum tax rate that would ensure all companies pay something in taxes, rather than allowing so many write-offs or deductions that they contribute zero to the Treasury.

A Republican familiar with the talks and granted anonymity to discuss the private assessment said the GOP senators view that idea as an unnecessary tax hike. They had already rejected his initial proposal to hike the corporate tax rate, from 21% to 28%,

Instead, Republicans are insisting on using untapped COVID-19 relief funds to pay for the infrastructure investments. Biden's team has rejected that approach.

Still, neither Biden nor the GOP senators appear ready to call off talks, even as Democrats prepare to use budget rules to pass any big package on their own, without Republican votes.

On Friday, House Democrats released a plan for spending $547 billion over the next five years on road, mass transit and rail projects, a blueprint of their priorities and a potential building block for Biden's broader package.

The proposal from Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Democratic chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, continues existing programs set to expire and adds key pieces of the larger measure Biden is negotiating with Republicans.

DeFazio’s legislation doesn’t address how to pay for the projects. He called the effort a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to move our transportation planning out of the 1950s and toward our clean energy future.”

His bill would authorize up to $343 billion for roads, bridges and safety improvements. Another $109 billion would go to public transit programs and $95 billion would go to freight and passenger rail system, including a tripling of funding for Amtrak.

DeFazio’s bill is not expected to attract much GOP support, as Republicans unveiled their own legislation recently that would authorize about $400 billion over five years for road, bridge and transit programs.

Republicans on the House panel criticized the Democratic legislation in a statement. “Instead of working with Republicans to find common ground on a bill that could earn strong bipartisan support – something our Senate counterparts did successfully last month – this bill moves even further to the left to appease the most progressive members in the Majority’s party."

Biden also called DeFazio on Friday to thank him for his work “on key elements of the American Jobs Plan,“ Psaki said, adding that they agreed on the benefits of continuing to engage Democratic and Republican senators.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable have called on lawmakers to continue negotiations and work toward a bipartisan compromise.

But some Democrats have questioned the merits of that approach and are already unhappy with some of the compromises that Biden has offered. They support using a process that would allow Democrats to pass an infrastructure boost with a simple majority, which they did through a COVID-19 relief measure that delivered $1,400 payments to most Americans.

“Getting Republicans on board is not necessary. Getting the American people back on their feet is,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., said.

__

Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

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