President Joe Biden reportedly expressed willingness to lower the cost of his infrastructure plan in a meeting with a top Republican Wednesday, although both parties remain far apart regarding the total scope of the spending and on other important infrastructure-related concerns.
According to The Washington Post, Biden told Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the lead Republican negotiator in infrastructure talks, that he wants at least $1 trillion in new spending for a deal. Biden’s previous plan called for $1.7 trillion in new spending, over the next eight years, which he said would be paid for with corporate taxes within 15 years.
The president also suggested in the Wednesday meeting that he would be willing to exclude an increase in the corporate tax rate, which the 2017 Tax Cuts dropped to 21% but which he has been wanting to increase to 28%, reports The New York Times. The offer would come after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said last month that the GOP would not be revisiting the tax cuts, referring to them as one of former President Donald Trump’s most significant domestic accomplishments, reports CNBC.
Instead of corporate tax increases, reports The Associated Press, Biden has suggested a 15% minimum corporate tax. “By floating an alternative — there is no minimum corporate tax now on profits — Biden was trying to give Republicans a way to back infrastructure without violating their own red line of keeping corporate tax rates at their current level,” reports AP.
The White House would also consider increasing enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service to help bring in more money.
Notably, however, the Biden administration could still pursue a tax increase outside the deal, such as in another bill, a source told The Washington Post. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki suggested as much during a Thursday briefing, saying Biden would still push to raise corporate taxes because he believes “corporations can afford to pay a little bit more.”
POLITICO, citing “two GOP sources familiar with the negotiations,” reports that Capito plans to return to meet with Biden on Friday. She has expressed willingness to strike a deal, but it’s unclear what kind of counter-offer she could present given the significant differences between the two plans. The New York Times reports that it isn’t even clear whether Capito plans to create a counter-offer before meeting with Biden.
McConnell said Thursday that he remains open to a compromise, and spoke with Capito before and after she met with Biden on Wednesday. “We’re still hoping we can come to an agreement on a fully paid for and significant infrastructure package,” the Republican leader told The Wall Street Journal.
The infrastructure developments mark some of most significant updates to the negotiations since the White House unveiled its plan in March. At the time, Biden was asking for more than $2 trillion in new spending; Republicans countered with a roughly $568 billion plan, largely paid for through unspent COVID-19 relief, The Associated Press reported at the time.
In the latest counter-offer, Republican lawmakers have proposed $928 billion in spending, the majority of which would come from previously allocated but unspent money. The Biden administration, however, wants at least $1 trillion, and all of it from new, instead of repurposed, spending.
Costs aside, the two parties still remain divided on the scope of an infrastructure plan.
The Biden administration and other Democrats have touted the “jobs” aspect of the proposal, formally called the American Jobs Plan, purportedly as a way of broadening the definition of infrastructure beyond how Americans have seen it in the past.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) recently referred to the infrastructure plans as a way of expanding “our idea of what infrastructure means,” while Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a former presidential candidate, has referred to paid family leave and affordable child care as “human infrastructure,” suggesting she believes they should stay on the table.
“I think the American people elected us to solve the problem of COVID, to rebuild the economy, rebuilding the infrastructure, and I think it’s the moment to act. I think we need a bold solution that does both the hard infrastructure — of roads, bridges, high-speed rail, rural internet — but also the softer infrastructure, the human infrastructure of paid family leave, affordable day-care, making sure our kids are back to school so that all parents can get back to work,” said Gillibrand.
“People need government to work for them, and so we have to answer that moment with bold reforms. And I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep. I would go forward,” she added.
Republicans lawmakers, on the other hand, have been firm that any infrastructure spending needs to be limited to what Americans actually consider to be infrastructure. The GOP counter-offer contains about $500 billion for roads, and another $214 billion for public transportation, water infrastructure, and passenger rail. Unlike in the Biden administration’s original offer, there is no funding for “care economy” infrastructure.
“We want to focus on actual infrastructure,” Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), one of the GOP negotiators, said in a late May presser. “The platforms and services that move people and goods and services through our economy, that’s what people understand to be infrastructure, and we can reach an agreement if we focus on those items.”
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