President Joe Biden has offered to lower the pricetag of his gigantic Infrastructure Bill, reducing it from $2 trillion to just over $1.7. trillion The lower cost will most certainly not be enough for reaching a deal with Republicans, whose response to the original Biden plan was a bill hovering the $550 billion, meaning that Biden’s counter-offer still remains near three times bigger than the GOP offer.
According to a memo sent to GOP senators by the Biden White House, the Infrastructure cuts would be centered on broadband internet and repairs to bridges and roads. The Democrats proposing a $35 billion cut in the former and $39 billion in the latter, while also proposing to redirect almost $450 billion destined in the original bill to other legislation. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said this proposal is part of “the art of seeking common ground”.
The curious thing about these cuts in spending is that they are located precisely in the front (that of traditional infrastructure) where there is more bipartisan agreement of the need for government spending. The Republican original counter-proposal actually proposes more spending for traditional infrastructure project than both the first and second editions of Biden’s massive infrastructure plan.
For example, Republicans originally proposed a $299 billion package for roads, bridges, and a $65 billion investment in broadband internet infrastructure. Biden’s cuts would leave his flagship project on a mere $120 billion destined to roads and bridges, while his new proposed amount on broadband infrastructure is actually the same amount Republicans have been pushing for at the beginning ($65 billion).
Instead of focusing on the issues that are keeping both Democrats and Republicans far apart on the infrastructure issue (taxes, human infrastructure, etc.) Biden’s team appears to be focusing their cuts on issues where both parties are pretty much in common agreement while ignoring the thorniest aspects that are preventing a bipartisan infrastructure deal.
Because of this, it is highly unlikely this new offer by Biden will do much to get them closer to a deal with Senate Republicans, who are still interested in passing a kind of infrastructure bill but are heavily against the Democrat’s original plan due to both the gigantic amount of money destined to the project and the type of projects that Biden intends to fund with his plan.
The communications director for Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) talked to reporters and confirmed that the proposal by the Biden camp will not be enough and said that the counteroffer was still “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support”, said that there are still “vast differences” between both groups, and added that it seemed that the camps were “further apart” after their meetings with White House Staff than they were when they met with President Biden.
This apparent setback comes barely days after Sen. Capito had talked with Bloomberg and said that she was feeling relatively optimistic about the prospects of finding a common agreement with the Biden White House on infrastructure.
Does Biden even want a bipartisan agreement?
Hence, Biden’s counterproposal seems to be more of a smokescreen sent by the White House to get some political cover in the event the negotiations fall apart and the administration pursues to push the legislation through their majorities in congress through reconciliation, without the need of looking for any Republican vote.
Some progressive Democrats have already been pressuring Biden over his negotiations with Senate Republicans, calling him to abandon them and pursue the same partisan path he has followed over the COVID-19 relief bill by using the convoluted but useful parliamentarian technique of budget reconciliation.
The Senior Senator for the state of Massachusetts Ed Markey (D) has joined the progressive chorus of those who want to kill any further negotiations with the GOP saying in a short but fiery press release that “let’s not waste time trading the necessary scope and scale of this critical infrastructure package for congressional Republican votes that have yet to and will never materialize”.
Having exclusive authorship over a bill may bring both significant benefits and drawbacks. If the bill is popular or successful, then Biden can ride that into the midterm elections and paint. Republicans as obstructionists who do not care about their constituencies. However, the opposite also holds true, if the bill proves to be too much then the GOP will use the bill as a perfect display of Democratic overreach and use it in the 2022 push to recapture Congress.
If talks continue the way they are and both parties fall short on any agreement that would be either supported by the Republican leadership or at least a tacit acquiescence that would allow 10 GOP Senators to vote for the project, then Biden will most likely resort to use the reconciliation package and pass the bill with his slim majorities in both the House and the Senate.