President Joe Biden(C) and Vice President Kamala Harris(L) meet with Republican Senator from West Virginia Shelley Moore Capito (R) and Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho (frontL) to discuss an infrastructure bill in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2021.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said he had a “very, very good meeting” with a group of senior Republican senators Thursday about a bipartisan infrastructure deal, and that he plans to host them at the White House again next week for further talks.
The lead Republican senator working on a deal with Biden, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, also said they made genuine progress.
The senators attending the Oval Office meeting all serve as ranking members on committees with jurisdiction over infrastructure. In addition to Moore Capito, the meeting included Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s senior senator.
“It was great to be back with so many of the colleagues who I served with in the Senate, and I am very optimistic that we can reach a reasonable agreement,” Biden said at a Rose Garden event following the meeting.
“We didn’t compromise on anything, what we did was, I laid out what I thought we should be doing, and how it should be paid for, and my colleagues in the Senate came back to me and said they’ll come back with a counteroffer of what they are prepared to do, and how to fund it, and then we’ll talk again next week,” said Biden.
There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that Biden, a consummate dealmaker, can reach an agreement with Republicans on some infrastructure proposals, especially if he agrees to split the massive $1.8 trillion American Jobs Plan package into two or more separate bills.
Following the meeting, Moore Capito also said the two sides had made genuine progress. She said Biden had asked the Republicans to rework an earlier counteroffer they made to his American Jobs Plan, and bring it back to him so he could make his own counteroffer.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito speaks with CNBC’s John Harwood.
Mary Stevens | CNBC
“We had a very productive [meeting], more than courteous give and take,” she said. “We did talk specifics, and the president has asked us to come back and rework an offer so that he can then react to that and then reoffer to us. We’re very encouraged, we feel very committed to the bipartisanship that we think this infrastructure package can carry forward.”
Blunt said it was “a really positive meeting… I think we’ll be able to go back the first of the week with another offer, and I believe he will make a counteroffer to that. And we all know we need to move pretty quickly here.”
In a statement, Toomey that he believes, “Congress and the Biden administration can come together and enact a bipartisan bill that responsibly boosts federal support for our roads, bridges, ports, and airports.”
But there remain major disagreements over core elements of an infrastructure bill, including what “infrastructure” should mean.
Biden’s proposal features hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for traditional infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridge repair.
It also includes billions more in spending to expand the electrical grid, bolster care for elderly and disabled Americans, invest in affordable housing and expand broadband access. Republicans have seized on Biden’s expansive definition of “infrastructure” to oppose much of his proposal.
Moore Capito said the senators and the president acknowledged where they had differences, but didn’t dwell on them.
“I’m not saying [Biden] agrees with it or with everything. That’s the point of a negotiation here. He understands why we knocked some things out. If he wants to try to have us reconsider, that’s part of a negotiation. I think he got our point. He understands what we think modern infrastructure is, including broadband, and how big that package could be.”
Democrats and Republicans also remain far apart on how to pay for the much-needed infrastructure investments.
Democrats have so far rejected a Republican proposal to fund the plan through user fees, with White House officials saying this amounts to a tax hike on middle-class Americans who drive.
Instead, Democrats propose raising the corporate tax rate and closing loopholes that would effectively mean corporations and the very richest Americans pay for the plan.
Republicans say any changes to the low tax rates enacted in their 2017 tax-cut bill are a nonstarter.
Moore Capito said the senators did not discuss specifics on how to pay for the improvements with Biden.
The president has set an unofficial deadline of Memorial Day for reaching a deal with Republicans, or at least making significant progress on a deal.
Thursday’s meeting was the most positive step so far towards achieving Biden’s goal of crafting a bipartisan infrastructure package.
“The attitude that the president had in the Oval Office with us was very supportive, very much desirous of striking a deal. And I think we were all reflective of that, as well,” said Moore Capito.
If Biden fails to reach a bipartisan compromise on the plan, he and congressional Democrats have said they will use budget reconciliation to pass an infrastructure package on a purely party-line vote, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate.