Senate Republicans are mostly keeping their cards close to the vest when it comes to the $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure agreement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t thrown his support behind the package yet, even though it was negotiated by a handful of Senate Republicans that included Mitt Romney if Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. The framework is concentrated on physical items like roads and bridges. It also contains funding for broadband internet, a major priority for both parties.
There doesn’t appear to be a lot of enthusiasm among Republicans to back the agreement yet, which could partly stem from the fact that negotiators are still turning the blueprint into a formal bill. Democrats are pressing to finalize the details this week, but Republicans say a bill won’t be ready until next week.
A total of 11 GOP senators signed onto the bipartisan agreement, which would be enough for the plan to clear the 60-vote threshold if every Democratic senator voted for it as well.
But some have signaled they could withdraw their support given that Democrats are poised to advance a separate $3.5 trillion party-line package through reconciliation in the coming weeks. That legislative pathway requires Democrats to stick together in an evenly-divided Senate over united Republican opposition – and both measures would be approved on parallel tracks.
‘This deal is troublesome to me,” said Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a GOP sponsor, on Wednesday.
Others say they don’t want the bipartisan deal’s fate to be tied to the Democrat-only plan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the House will only approve a bipartisan bill once the Senate clears a party-line infrastructure bill. “They certainly can’t be connected,” Sen. Lindsay Graham, another Republican sponsor, told reporters on Wednesday.
Republicans have also started criticizing the funding mechanisms, potentially making it harder for more Republicans to support an agreement.
Some experts are skeptical that the funding provisions of the bipartisan deal – which include repurposing coronavirus relief funds and unspent federal unemployment aid – will fully pay for itself. Howard Gleckman, a tax expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, called it “pixie dust” in a recent blog post.
The GOP is seizing on that given their opposition to growing the national debt. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said in a Tuesday interview that Republicans want “just to make sure the pay-fors are responsible, actually real and not illusory,” he said.
Sen. John Thune, the second-ranked Senate Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that a plan that’s fully paid for would be a “prerequisite for a lot of Republicans to support it.”
Bipartisan negotiations on a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package are poised to stretch into next week as lawmakers struggle to resolve key disagreements on how to finance it.
Democrats are pushing for a multitrillion-dollar package that would provide cash benefits to parents and set up universal pre-K, along with upgrades to roads and bridges – all paid for with tax increases on rich Americans and large firms.
But Senate Republicans are starting to believe that striking a deal with President Joe Biden on an infrastructure plan could torch the rest of his economic agenda, particularly some of those tax hikes and his planned social initiatives.
“I think if we can agree on an infrastructure package that’s paid for, we should,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told Insider. “But the Democrats want to do more on what I would call non-infrastructure and I assume they’ll try and do that in reconciliation.”
He went on: “The biggest challenge they have right now is not Republicans, it’s Democrats disagreeing on the use of reconciliation for that purpose.”
At least one senior Republican shared the assessment that Democrats’ use of the party-line approach could face a rocky path ahead, as all 50 Democrats in the Senate would have to remain united on a separate plan.
“It’ll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranked Senate Republican, told reporters on Monday. “The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation – in some ways, with certain Democrats – it gets a lot harder.”
Progressives are pushing for Democrats to scrap the talks so a massive package can be approved without Republican support. In an interview with Insider last month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York singled out national paid leave and affordable childcare as the pair of initiatives most at jeopardy of being dropped from the talks entirely.
Those liberals are at odds with centrist-leaning Democrats who want the discussions to continue. Some have already expressed unease with Biden’s tax hikes on the rich to finance new programs – which could potentially cut the scope of a follow-up package. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Bob Menendez favor scaling back Biden’s tax increase on capital gains, Politico reported.
“I know there needs to be reconciliation,” Warner told reporters on Thursday. “But that also doesn’t mean that I accept all of what the president has proposed.”
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Biden ally in Congress, said he favors striking a deal with Republicans if possible, but he also backs a separate party-line bill which he acknowledged has no margin of error.
“I am equally determined to move ahead with a reconciliation package that will delivers on Biden’s boldest policy proposals and I think it is possible for us to do both,” he said in a recent interview. “But it’s going to take a lot of coordination in our Democratic caucus.”
Ahead of President Joe Biden’s unveiling of his $1.8 trillion infrastructure plan on Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke out in defense of the president’s tax increase proposals to fund the plan.
Pelosi joined MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday afternoon to talk about Biden’s progress since he took office, and she was quick to defend the tax hikes to fund his infrastructure plan, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
She said Biden’s tax hikes are in response to the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts.
“We’re on a better path for the people,” Pelosi told MSNBC. “What he [Biden] is talking about is exactly just to reverse some of what the Republicans did in their tax scam where they added almost $2 trillion to the national debt, if you include the cost and the interest on the debt, to give tax breaks to the top, top, wealthiest people in the country.”
Pelosi also said that Biden’s plan, which includes funding for universal pre-K and free community college, is “transformative” and works to directly aid Americans.
Pelosi was referring to former President Donald Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which gave higher-income households larger average tax cuts than lower-income households. This plan was criticized at the time by Democrats who argued that the wealthy should pay their fair share in taxes, and prompted legislation from lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who recently introduced an ultramillionare tax on the wealthiest Americans.
Biden originally proposed a corporate tax hike from 21% to 28% to fund his infrastructure plan, but has since expressed willingness to negotiate on the size and scope of the plan to get Republicans on board. The international average is around 25%, a rate with which Biden would reportedly be comfortable. The 2017 tax cut slashed the rate down from 35%, although American corporations have contributed a lower percentage to GDP than the international average for two decades, per JPMorgan research.
“I am prepared to compromise, prepared to see what we can do and what we can get together on,” Biden said at a bipartisan infrastructure meeting last week. “It’s a big package, but there are a lot of needs.”
But even so, Republicans would rather see a plan funded without any form of an income or corporate tax increase. A group of Republicans introduced a counter-proposal to Biden’s infrastructure plan which would cost between $600 billion and $800 billion, and would be funded by user-fees, like a gas tax, instead of tax hikes.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune tweeted on Tuesday that Biden’s proposed tax hikes are part of a “socialist vision” for the country, repeating the Republican Party’s now-familiar playbook to label any Democratic policy proposal as socialist.
In separate remarks in Congress today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated his opposition to Biden’s infrastructure plans, calling them “another multitrillion-dollar smorgasbord of liberal social engineering.”
President Joe Biden has befuddled Republicans in Washington, DC.
He successfully pushed through his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill despite the objections of every congressional Republican, arguing that the broadly popular legislation had sizeable support among GOP voters.
As someone who has endeared himself to Amtrak, Biden has long been a proponent of strengthening the country’s infrastructure, which has resulted in a proposed $2 trillion piece of legislation that would invest in everything from roads and bridges to broadband and public school upgrades.
Similar to the relief bill that passed in March, Republicans are arguing that the infrastructure bill is too expensive.
Biden, cognizant of the missteps that plagued the administration of former President Barack Obama from his former perch as the vice president, has been unrelenting in his view that now is the time for bold change in America.
Republicans have attacked that worldview, arguing that unified Democratic control of government has resulted in too much liberalism, with Biden’s governance being painted as a liability.
However, nearly 100 days into Biden’s first term, most voters seem to hold the opposite view and the GOP has been almost powerless to stop him.
Biden is getting good marks from the American public
The proposed infrastructure bill actually polls better among respondents in the Quinnipiac poll when asked if they’d support raising corporate taxes to fund the legislation, a position that most GOP members of Congress staunchly oppose.
It’s difficult to run against a president who’s popular and has just funneled a massive amount of stimulus into the economy to help the country recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republicans are increasingly becoming vocal about their predicament.
Biden’s longtime moderate sensibilities lend him credibility
Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota acknowledged the party’s struggles in countering Biden’s messaging.
“We need to get better at it,” he told The Hill. “I don’t think sometimes our messaging is as sharp as it should be because a lot of the things they’re doing are things that are popular – when you’re spending money, you’re popular.”
Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana told The Hill that the GOP was doing “poorly” in countering Biden’s agenda.
“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job because he’s getting away with defining himself and rolling out this stuff that we’re borrowing every penny for it, and the public is buying it,” Braun said. “We’ve got to find ways to articulate and scuffle in a better way, and I don’t know that we’ve found that.”
Biden, who served in the US Senate from 1973 to 2009 before holding the vice presidency from 2009 to 2017, has long had a reputation as dealmaking, old-school moderate Democrat.
As president, he has managed to deftly craft policy in a way that has drawn support from moderates and progressives, along with many independent voters.
Progressives, who mostly lined up behind Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, have overwhelmingly lined up behind Biden’s policy agenda so far, helping give the president almost unanimous support among Democratic voters in the most recent polling numbers.
However, Republicans in Congress are beginning to complain that Biden’s bipartisanship outreach hasn’t yielded them much input.
Republicans think Biden is overreaching with his policies
“He’s been out with a dialogue of unity and bipartisanship and almost pulled off a masterpiece in that there’s not been any of that,” Braun expressed to The Hill. “And that we need to be clarifying that. I think the invitations to the White House … I was on one of those … What did we end up with? Zero.”
GOP members have forecasted that over time, voters will lose an appetite for Biden’s larger spending proposals.
“His tone is moderate and he’s an affable person, he’s a likeable individual and a lot of us know him, have relationships with him and it’s probably harder to attack somebody who is relatable and likeable,” Thune told The Hill, adding that “if he continues down the left, the far-left lane, with respect to policy, that eventually that will start to catch up with him.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who served with Biden in the Senate for over 20 years, said recently that Biden was presiding over a “left-wing administration” while praising him as a “first-rate person.”
“I like him personally, I mean, we’ve been friends for a long time,” McConnell said.
Biden’s focus on vaccinations and “straight talk” when it comes to COVID-19 have earned him high marks in his handling of the issue.
However, while Biden’s approval on immigration issues remain his weak spot in polling, it has not significantly impacted his overall standing, much to the consternation of some Republicans.
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin lodged such a complaint, accusing the press of enabling Biden.
“I think he’s defined himself … I think all we have to do is point out what he’s doing, the disaster at the border,” he told The Hill. “When you have the mainstream media in your back pocket, you’re going to stay popular.”
President Joe Biden is set to unveil a massive $3 trillion infrastructure bill next week and many lawmakers have floated various ideas on how to fund it. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has an idea: a mileage tax.
In a CNBC interview on Friday, Buttigieg discussed Biden’s upcoming proposal and said the plan will lead to a net gain for Americans, rather than a net cost, since infrastructure is “a classic example of the kind of investment that has a return on that investment.”
“That’s one of many reasons why we think this is so important,” Buttigieg said. “This is a jobs vision as much as it is an infrastructure vision, a climate vision and more.”
When it comes to funding, Buttigieg said revenue will likely come from different sources and is something that he still needs to discuss with Congress, but a mileage tax could be an effective option. Introducing that would also encourage the use of electric vehicles, which has been a goal of Biden’s since the start of his presidential campaign.
“I think that shows a lot of promise,” Buttigieg said. “If we believe in that so-called user-pays principle, the idea that part of how we pay for roads is you pay based on how much you drive.”
Buttigieg added that Build America Bonds – Obama-era bonds financed by the federal government – could also be revived to fund the infrastructure bill.
The president is set to unveil his infrastructure proposal in Pittsburgh next week, and it could include up to $3 trillion in spending, split into separate packages for repairing crumbling infrastructure and for care-economy funding for initiatives including free community college and universal pre-K.
Sen. John Thune, the Senate’s second-ranked Republican, told reporters on Tuesday that splitting up the infrastructure bill is a “pretty cynical ploy” by Democrats to attempt to gain GOP support for certain measures.
And even some moderate Democrats have expressed concerns about passing an infrastructure bill without Republican support. Moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told Axios that he likely won’t support another reconciliation bill.
“I am not going to get on a bill that cuts them [Republicans] out completely before we start trying,” Manchin said.
Buttigieg on Thursday urged the House Transportation Committee to make a “generational investment” in infrastructure and combat racial inequity and climate change.
He said: “There is near-universal recognition that a broader recovery will require a national commitment to fix and transform America’s infrastructure.”
Eight days after the Democrats introduced an ultramillionaire tax proposal on the richest American households, Republican lawmakers proposed less taxes on the wealthy by means of a federal estate tax repeal.
The estate tax is a tax on a person’s right to transfer property after death, but it only applied to estates valued at over $11.7 million in 2021. A 2020 estimate by the Tax Policy Center found that fewer than 2,000 households would have to pay the estate tax in 2020, given this high threshold. But Republican Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and John Thune of South Dakota want to permanently repeal all of that with their Death Tax Repeal Act of 2021.
“The death tax is lethal to many family-run businesses and farms,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Louisianians shouldn’t lose a legacy of family work to a punishing, illogical tax burden. By ending the death tax, we can make it easier for families to pass their farms and businesses to the next generation.”
However, data from the Dept. of Agriculture revealed that farm estates did not actually bear much of the brunt of estate taxes. In 2020, the USDA forecasted that only 0.6% of the 31,394 farm estates would be required to file an estate tax return, and only 0.16% of those estates would have an estate tax liability.
Thune and Kennedy did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
The Republicans’ legislation came after Democrats introduced an ultramillionaire tax on the top 0.05% of Americans households on March 1, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, which would place a 2% tax on household net worth between $50 million and $1 billion and a 3% tax on household net worth over $1 billion.
“A wealth tax is popular among voters on both sides for good reason: because they understand the system is rigged to benefit the wealthy and large corporations,” Warren said in a statement.
Taxing the wealthy has often been a partisan issue in Congress. During a speech in 2017, former President Donald Trump called the federal estate tax a “tremendous burden” on family farmers and said he would not allow “the death tax or the inheritance tax or the whatever-you-want-to-call-it to crush the American Dream.”
The reintroduction of the tax repeal also comes as President Joe Biden signed his $1.9 trillion stimulus into law on Thursday, offering significant assistance to low-income families while cutting out those earning above $80,000 from receiving $1,400 stimulus checks.
“To Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Schumer, and everyone who voted for the American Rescue Plan – thank you,” Biden said on Twitter on Wednesday. “This is a historic victory for the American people.”
When President Joe Biden met with 10 Republican senators in the Oval Office on February 1 to discuss their counter-proposal to his stimulus plan, he made it clear that he wasn’t willing to decrease the size of the $1.9 trillion package.
But nearly four weeks after that meeting, some of those same moderate Republicans are now saying that a lack of White House outreach is a primary reason why they don’t support his package, despite having known what the president’s plans were for weeks now.
The Republican group, led by Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, spearheaded the $618 billion stimulus proposal, which was a third of the cost of the president’s. But Collins told reporters on Tuesday that while Biden seemed willing to hear the GOP’s proposal, it was Biden’s advisors, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who have made bipartisan efforts difficult.
“I’ve had conversations with people at the White House, and other members of the group have as well,” Collins told reporters. “But I think the sticking point is that the White House staff seems very wedded to the $1.9 trillion thing.”
She added that Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, stood in the back of the room during the meeting and shook his head at every mention of decreasing the size of the stimulus package, confirming a Washington Post report that Klain visibly disagreed with them during that meeting.
Collins did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota also told reporters on Tuesday that GOP members feeling “unconsulted” is a primary reason for their lack of support for the president’s stimulus plan and said it “makes it hard for any of our members, even those that might be inclined to do so, to vote for it. To vote for anything.”
Biden not budging
Biden made his intentions for the stimulus package clear to both Republicans and Democrats, The Washington Post reported shortly after the Oval Office meeting. When it came to certain elements of the plan, like the income thresholds for stimulus checks, the president said he would be willing to compromise on the eligibility – but not the size – of the checks.
And when it came to discussions on unemployment insurance, for example, Biden firmly told the group that he wasn’t willing to shorten the length of benefits, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who attended the meeting, told The Washington Post.
“I’ve told both Republicans and Democrats, that’s my preference, to work together,” Biden told reporters on February 5. “But if I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now.”
In addition, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted at the end of January that cutting down the size of the package would never be an option.
Biden’s stimulus plan cleared the House Budget Committee on Monday, and it’s now headed to the House Rules Committee. Schumer said during a press conference on Tuesday that he aims to get the package to Biden’s desk before unemployment benefits expire on March 14.
Many Democratic lawmakers abandoned the prospect of working with Republicans on the stimulus package early on, with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont saying on January 24 that he would support reconciliation measures to get pandemic relief to Americans without Republican votes.
“RINO John Thune, “Mitch’s boy”, should just let it play out. South Dakota doesn’t like weakness. He will be primaried in 2022, political career over!!!” Trump wrote in a tweet.
Rep. Mo Brooks and several other conservative members of the House met with Trump and Pence on Monday to discuss the baseless claims that the election was stolen from Trump. Those who attended said they were confident that on January 6, when the electoral votes confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s victory are solidified, some members of the House and the Senate would debate the legitimacy of the votes.
On January 6, Pence will preside over a joint session of Congress to finalize the results. If no member objects to the results, they will be certified. But if both a member of the House and a member of the Senate vote to challenge a state’s electors, Congress would have to deliberate on whether to accept those electors.
In response, Thune said: “I think the thing they got to remember is it’s not going anywhere. I mean, in the Senate, it would go down like a shot dog. I just don’t think it makes a lot of sense to put everybody through this when you know what the ultimate outcome is going to be.”