Biden meets with bipartisan group on $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, saying he’s open to negotiate

Joe Biden Oval Office
President Joe Biden.

  • Biden held his first official meeting with eight bipartisan lawmakers to discuss infrastructure.
  • He told reporters that he is willing to negotiate on both the size and the scope of his plan.
  • Republican lawmakers argue his plan is too focused on things aside from physical infrastructure.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

For the first time since unveiling his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package two weeks ago, President Joe Biden met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Monday to discuss the proposal.

Eight lawmakers, including Chair of the Senate Committee on Climate, Science, and Transportation Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Sam Graves, and Rep. Don Young of Alaska, joined Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office to kick off bipartisan discussions.

“I’m prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure package, as well as how we pay for it,” Biden told reporters after the meeting.

He also dismissed the idea that the meeting was just “window dressing,” and said he was “prepared to negotiate as to the extent of the infrastructure project as well as how we pay for it,” citing broadband and clean-water access as important parts of his definition of infrastructure.

This meeting followed a press briefing earlier in the day, when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is “absolutely” willing to negotiate on the size and scope of the package.

With regard to scope, Republican lawmakers have argued that it’s too focused on things besides rebuilding physical infrastructure, like roads and bridges. For example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement two weeks ago that while Biden could have drafted a “serious, targeted infrastructure plan” that would have received bipartisan support, “the latest liberal wish-list the White House has decided to label ‘infrastructure’ is a major missed opportunity by this Administration.”

And with regards to the size of the plan, Republican lawmakers have said the $2.3 trillion price tag, along with Biden’s proposed tax hikes, are too high.

Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Roger Wicker, who attended the meeting, told ABC News in an interview on Sunday, “We are willing to negotiate with him [Biden] on an infrastructure package, and this trillion-dollar number is way too high for me.”

He added that negotiations on the plan have to look different than the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that passed in February without any Republican votes.

Some Democrats have said they’d like to see some changes to the package. Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said on a West Virginia radio talk show last week that he does not support Biden’s proposed corporate tax increase to 28%. “Well, the bill basically is not going to end up that way,” he said.

Psaki emphasized in the Monday press briefing that Biden genuinely wants to work with both parties to create a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

“You don’t use the president of the United States’ time, multiple times over … if you did not want to authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas about how to move forward this package,” she said.

Also in the meeting were Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. of New Jersey, Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California, and Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who all sit on committees relevant to rebuilding infrastructure.

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Senior Democrat caught on hot mic suggests bypassing Republicans on infrastructure

Ben Cardin
Sen. Ben Cardin.

  • Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin was heard suggesting reconciliation for the upcoming infrastructure bill.
  • He cited likely Republican opposition and said the bill will resemble the $1.9 trillion stimulus.
  • Conservatives and moderates have already complained about the prospect of another reconciliation bill.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A senior Democratic senator, Ben Cardin of Maryland, was overheard in a “hot mic” moment saying the next trillion-dollar spending bill will probably have to bypass Republicans once again.

In a moment caught by C-SPAN on Monday, the chair of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure was overheard telling Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that Democrats will likely have to use reconciliation to pass an infrastructure bill, Politico first reported.

Democrats recently used reconciliation to pass the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” which President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday. The infrastructure bill could carry an even larger price tag, and Cardin said Democrats will “most likely have to use reconciliation” to pass that one, too.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be put together similar,” Cardin told Buttigieg when speaking about the infrastructure bill. “The Republicans will be with you to a point, and then -” he tailed off, suggesting that GOP backing would taper off as Democrats assemble a large bill.

House Democrats officially began working on an infrastructure package on Friday, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying in a statement that she aims to negotiate with Republicans on the legislative details.

She said it was her hope that bipartisanship would “prevail as we address other critical needs in energy and broadband, education and housing, water systems and other priorities.”

President Joe Biden has already held infrastructure talks with bipartisan groups of lawmakers. On February 11, he met with four bipartisan senators on the topic, and in the beginning of March, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers joined the president to discuss possible funding methods.

After the latter meeting with Biden, Sam Graves, ranking member of the House Committee of Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized the prospect of another party-line procedure.

The next bill “cannot be a ‘my way or the highway’ approach like last Congress,” he said, referring to previous Democratic legislation advanced under Pelosi.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multitrillion-dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said. “We have to be responsible, and a bill whose cost is not offset will lose Republican support.”

The Biden administration is reportedly weighing tax increases on wealthy Americans and large corporations to finance at least part of its domestic spending plans. Still, some experts say a significant portion of the legislation could be deficit-financed, citing the low cost of federal borrowing and the nature of infrastructure spending as a one-off investment in the economy.

On the Democratic side of the Senate, the influential moderate Joe Manchin of West Virginia said in an “Axios on HBO” interview that Democrats need to work with Republicans on the next big spending bill.

“I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” Manchin said. “I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying.”

Biden has not yet announced specific funding plans for an infrastructure bill, although his campaign platform included a $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Manchin has said he could support a bill worth up to $4 trillion, as long as it was paid for adequately.

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