Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has tested positive for the disease, according to a spokesman
“Senator Wicker tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after immediately seeking a test due to mild symptoms. Senator Wicker is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, is in good health, and is being treated by his Tupelo-based physician,” said Phillip Waller, the senator’s communications director, in a statement. “He is isolating, and everyone with whom Senator Wicker has come in close contact recently has been notified.”
Wicker is the second US senator to disclose a “breakthrough” infection, following Lindsey Graham’s diagnosis on August 3.
Meanwhile the pandemic continues to worsen in Wicker’s home state of Mississippi; according to the New York Times COVID-19 tracking page, Mississippi currently has the highest per-capita case rate of COVID-19, with 118 cases per 100,000 residents.
Just 36% of Mississippians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the second-lowest rate for a US state, except for Alabama.
In his latest attempt to get Republicans on board with his infrastructure plan, President Joe Biden offered them a $1.7 trillion plan last week, down from his initial $2.25 trillion proposal. GOP lawmakers plan on countering that with a $1 trillion plan on Thursday.
A group of GOP senators, led by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, met with Biden two weeks ago to discuss their initial $568 billion counter-proposal to Biden’s infrastructure plan. They missed last Tuesday’s deadline to bring the president a new offer, but Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi told reporters on Tuesday that a new offer close to $1 trillion will be brought to the table on Thursday.
“We’re going to hit a figure very close to what the president said he would accept, and it will end up being the most substantial infrastructure bill ever enacted by the federal government,” Wicker told reporters.
Capito’s office said in a statement to Insider last week that Friday’s White House offer was “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support” and that Republicans and the White House still differed on what’s considered infrastructure, how much should be spent on it, and where that money should come from.
While Biden has proposed funding the plan through corporate tax hikes, Republicans have strongly opposed doing so, instead suggesting “user-fees,” a set of charges levied on the users of a federal service or good, like raising the federal gas tax.
And last week, Insider reported that Capito floated the idea of taking unused federal unemployment money to fund infrastructure, which comes as 23 GOP-led states have so far announced they are ending unemployment benefits early following the weak April jobs report.
Wicker told reporters on Tuesday that repurposing stimulus funds, and not spending any new money, will be something the GOP will push for. Republicans are also pushing take Biden’s proposed tax hikes on the richest Americans and multinational firms off the table in any deal.
“I do think there’s a path forward here if the president is willing to take it,” Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, the fourth-ranking Senate Republican, told Insider. “As long as we’re not talking about tax hikes, I think that’s really important because Republicans are not going to support any tax hikes.”
Biden has proposed lifting the corporate tax rate to 28% from the 21% level put in place in the 2017 Republican tax law. He’s also seeking to impose higher taxes on investors and raise the marginal income tax rate.
Not all Republicans support the $1 trillion figure, likely complicating a bipartisan plan. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters that it’s “unlikely” he’d support a number that high, which could pose another barrier to reaching a bipartisan agreement.
As these negotiations continue, Democratic lawmakers are increasingly urging Biden to forego these discussions and move ahead with passing the comprehensive package he proposed, with corporate tax hikes, to get urgent aid to Americans.
“We appreciate the White House’s interest in reaching across the aisle to seek Republican support for overwhelmingly popular infrastructure priorities …” House Democrats wrote in a letter. “While bipartisan support is welcome, the pursuit of Republican votes cannot come at the expense of limiting the scope of popular investments.”
Democrats had scathing assessments for the two-page Republican infrastructure outline released on Thursday, a sign that a bipartisan deal was not immediately in sight on one of President Joe Biden’s top economic priorities.
A group of Senate Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia had unveiled the $568 billion infrastructure blueprint that was less a detailed plan than a two-page outline of principles. It amounted to about a quarter of Biden’s proposed $2.3 trillion stimulus spending.
The GOP plan would spread out new spending over a five-year period, largely paid for with user-fees. It included no corporate tax hike, and set aside over half of its funding on to repair roads, highways, and bridges. Capito called it “a robust package” at a news conference.
But some Democrats sharply disagree – and they torched the plan as too meager to confront the dual crises of climate change and economic inequality.
“I think this Republican proposal is light years out of the ballpark in terms of being able to get a bipartisan compromise,” Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said on a press call. “They really dump it all on the backs of middle-class workers.”
Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania pointed to the Republican plan slashing the $400 billion in-home elder care component of Biden’s infrastructure plan, calling it a “terrible insult” to average workers.
“When they eliminate every penny for that investment, that’s a slap in the face to not just older Americans and people with disabilities, millions of families would need this care over the next number of years,” he told reporters on the same press call.
Democratic opposition to the plan appeared to run deep, and aides said they were skeptical of Republican seriousness on cutting a deal. Insider granted anonymity to two aides so they could speak candidly.
“Having a two-pager with four bullets on four [revenue] raisers, I don’t think it’s very serious,” one Democratic aide said, referring to the GOP plan.
“It doesn’t do anything on climate, which is non-negotiable for our caucus,” the aide said. “We can’t let a decade go by without doing something more substantial on climate.”
“It’s a joke,” another Democratic aide said. “Their number is so low and achieves so few of the things even they agree are important. It’s not remotely in the ballpark of what is serious.”
Republicans recently defended the early plan, saying they sought to strike an agreement.
“Could we just kind of tone the rhetoric down here and really try to get something done?” Capito told Politico on Wednesday. “I understand disagreement, but I read that we’re trying to stall it out and not make it happen. Or being too cheap? We’re talking about a very robust package here.”
The plan set the stage for additional talks, though it was unclear how disagreements over revenue sources and the plan’s size would be bridged.
The White House said on Thursday it was ready to kick off negotiations with the group of Senate Republicans on an infrastructure plan. The GOP proposal drew Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s approval earlier in the day.
“The president has said from the beginning he would welcome any good faith effort to find common ground because the only unacceptable step would be inaction,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
Other Republican senators at the news conference said they agreed with Capito. The group also included Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and John Cornyn of Texas.
Democrats assailed the Republican comments. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, called the red line a “completely unreasonable” position.
“Republicans’ insistence that the most profitable companies in the world shouldn’t contribute a single penny to investments in roads, schools and our clean-energy future is simply not acceptable,” Wyden said in a statement.
A faction of Senate Republicans in recent days appeared to be prepping a $600 billion to $800 billion infrastructure counterproposal to Biden’s $2.3 trillion package. Several lawmakers suggested financing the plan with a vehicle mileage tax on electric vehicles or raising the gas tax.
“I think we still haven’t defined what we mean by infrastructure and what’s going to be included and so how much it’s going to be, we don’t really have an idea,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters on Thursday. “It’s a very early process that we’ve engaged in.”
Still, other Democrats described the $800 billion indicated by Capito as too meager to address the country’s infrastructure needs. “We’re going to do whatever it takes. If it takes $4 trillion, I’d do $4 trillion but we have to pay for it,” Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told reporters on Thursday.
A JPMorgan economic research note on Thursday found that, although the corporate tax rate was higher than the global average before former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut, the US had a lower ratio of corporate tax revenues to GDP dating back to 2000.
President Joe Biden kicked off a major debate in early April when he proposed raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% to fund his $4 trillion infrastructure plan. Now JPMorgan has weighed in on the matter and it finds corporate tax revenue is lower in the US than elsewhere, even if the rate is now close to the international average.
And as sentiment appears strong in the US that American corporations don’t “pay their fair share,” the bank found that relative to other economies, the US “prioritizes raising tax revenue from personal income and property.” In other words, the current American tax system raises more from people’s paychecks and real-estate investments than from companies, compared to the rest of the world.
JPMorgan’s economic research note on Thursday found that prior to President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, the US statutory corporate tax rate of 35% was high compared to other countries, but that law slashed them by 13.2% – the largest decline ever.
Furthermore, the bank found that dating back to 2000, revenues actually collected from American corporate taxes only represented about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), versus a 3% average globally. This reflects, the bank said, “a complex system of exemptions and deductions embedded in the US tax code that reduces the corporate tax base and results in corporate taxes contributing a much lower share of total tax revenue in the US than elsewhere.”
And after the Trump tax cut, this percentage fell to just 1% of GDP. This explains the American reliance on taxing personal income and housing, the note said.
“The US stands out as having both the highest share of revenue from personal income (both labor and investment) across the economies we examine, and the smallest share of tax revenue from taxes on goods and services,” the note said.
While Biden and Democrats have supported raising the corporate tax rate to fund infrastructure, Republican lawmakers oppose doing so. For example, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said that rolling back Trump’s 2017 tax cuts would be “an almost impossible sell” to get bipartisan support.
And Insider reported on Thursday that a group of Republican senators are drafting their own infrastructure plan – one that would cost between $600 billion and $800 billion, and would be funded without any corporate tax hikes.
“My own view is that the pay-for ought to come from people who are using it. So if its an airport, the people who are flying,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, who is helping draft the plan, told reporters. “If it’s a port, the people who are shipping into the port; if it’s a rail system, the people who are using the rails; If it’s highways, it ought to be gas if it’s a gasoline powered vehicle.”
But Biden has remained firm on increasing the corporate tax rate to 28%, saying in a speech last week that the tax hike would level the playing field for large companies and average Americans.
He said: “I’m not trying to punish anybody, but damn it, maybe it’s because I come from a middle-class neighborhood, I’m sick and tired of ordinary people being fleeced.”
JPMorgan doesn’t put it in quite those terms, but its note concludes that so-called ordinary people account for a greater share of tax revenue in the US than elsewhere.
Sen. Roger Wicker of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, downplayed the prospect of a bipartisan deal on President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan that included rolling back the 2017 Trump tax cuts.
“It would be an almost impossible sell from the president to come to a bipartisan agreement that included the undoing of that signature [law],” Wicker said. “And I did tell him that.”
He described the 2017 tax cuts as “one of my signature achievements in my entire career” and said he supports keeping the corporate tax rate at 21%. The law slashed it to that level from 35%, and Biden wants to lift it to 28% to generate federal dollars for his infrastructure plan.
The remarks came after a bipartisan meeting between the White House and a centrist group of eight lawmakers, which Wicker called “a good meeting.” Biden administration officials said it was part of an effort to shore up support for their infrastructure plan.
“He looks forward to hearing their ideas, and his objective is to find a way forward where we can modernize our nation’s infrastructure so we can compete with China,” Psaki said hours before the meeting. The White House also released an ‘infrastructure report card‘ on Monday that hit a majority of states with Cs and Ds.
The Biden infrastructure plan includes major funding to repair roads and bridges and set up clean energy incentives. It also contains federal dollars for in-home elder care, public transit, broadband, and schools, among others.
Republicans are lining up in opposition to the Biden infrastructure plan. They argue its tax hikes on multinational corporations would hurt job growth and their global competitiveness at a vulnerable period in the economic recovery.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed the size and scope of the Democratic plan on Monday.
He said during a floor speech that Democrats were “embarking on an Orwellian campaign to convince everybody that any government policy whatsoever can be labeled ‘infrastructure.’ Liberals just have to believe in it hard enough.”
Still, some Democrats are seeking changes to the plan. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he is opposed to a 28% corporate tax rate and favors 25% instead.
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.
The stimulus package, which included $1,400 direct stimulus payments for individuals, funding for state and local governments, $300 in federal unemployment aid through September, and an expansion of the child tax credit, among other measures, did not receive a single GOP vote of support in the House or Senate.
After the bill’s passage, GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky slammed the legislation as “a classic example of big-government Democratic overreach in the name of Covid relief” and “one of the worst pieces of legislation” he’s seen in his 36 years in the Senate.
He also said the GOP would “talk repeatedly” to the American public about the true contents of the bill in the coming months.
However, some Republicans are now touting popular elements of the bill they railed against on Capitol Hill.
Conservative freshman GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina pointed to health funding in his district in a tweet last week, including nearly $2.5 million for the Appalachian Mountain Community Health Centers and $4.6 million for Western North Carolina Community Health Services that was part of the legislation.
“Happy to announce that NC-11 was awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,” he wrote. “Proud to see tax-payer dollars returned to NC-11.”
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison took note of Hawthorn’s tweet and blasted the congressman and the GOP.
“Come’on man,” he wrote. “@RepCawthorn is trying to take credit for the grants HE VOTED AGAINST. Republicans have no shame.”
Cawthorn spokesman Micah Bock told NBC News in a statement last week that the congressman uses his social media account “to post information relevant to his constituents in NC-11.”
“Oftentimes this means providing relevant federal information on proposals that the congressman does not support,” he said. “There are portions of the American Rescue Plan that benefit NC-11, however, bills are not passed in portions, they are passed entirely or not at all, and this bill does significantly more harm than good.”
GOP Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi praised the billions in targeted funding for the restaurant industry that he championed – it was part the final package that he voted against.
“Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief,” he tweeted after the bill passed. “This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”
When asked by CNN’s Manu Raju why he didn’t support the full measure, Wicker said he didn’t have to accept the full measure and was critical of the questioning.
“Just because there’s one good provision in a $1.9 trillion bill, doesn’t mean I have to vote for it … I think it’s a stupid question. I’m not going to vote for $1.9 trillion just because it has a couple of good provisions in it.”
Congressional Republicans have currently found themselves boxed into a corner on the issue.
A Pew Research poll released shortly before the bill’s signing showed 70% of US adults backing the legislation, with only 28% of respondents opposed to the measure.
Even 41% of Republican or Republican-leaning respondents, a significant minority, backed the COVID-19 relief bill.
National GOP leaders have pledged to use the bill as a campaign attack against Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections, but nearly three dozen Republican mayors across the county, from David Holt of Oklahoma City to John Giles of Mesa, backed the legislation.