Key Senate Republicans have proposed a blueprint for a $568-billion, five-year infrastructure bill that is much narrower in scope and has a much lower price tag compared to the $2-trillion infrastructure package President Joe Biden unveiled on March 31.
Republicans view their new outline, released April 22, as an opening offer in hoped-for negotiations with Biden and Senate Democrats to produce a sizable, compromise infrastructure measure later this year.
Despite the GOP proposal's differences with Biden's American Jobs Plan bill, the White House views the Republican outline as a starting point for further discussions about infrastructure legislation, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing later the same day.
“We’re looking forward to reviewing the details of the proposal,” she said, adding that staff-level discussions probably would follow and that Biden would likely invite lawmakers to the White House shortly after his scheduled April 28 address to a joint session of Congress.
Psaki added, “We certainly welcome any good-faith effort and certainly see this as that. But there are a lot of details to discuss and a lot of exchanges of ideas to happen over the coming days.”
But a leading Senate Democrat, Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), criticized the GOP framework as being "far too small to fund the investments the American people need and strongly support."
Wyden added, "It's just a quarter of what President Biden has proposed, and it's not a serious effort to do anything at all about the climate crisis."
The Republicans who crafted the plan are the party's ranking members on committees that have jurisdiction over most infrastructure sectors.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a midday April 22 press briefing that the group had transmitted its proposal to White House officials 30 minutes before the briefing began.
Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), top Republican on the Commerce committee, called the proposal “a serious effort to get negotiations started with President Biden and our Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate."
“This is a big proposal,” said Wicker. “$568 billion is a lot of money."
The exact dollar difference between the two proposals is not clear because Biden's funding would be provided over eight years and the Republicans' funding would span five years.
Under the GOP plan, highways and bridges would receive by far the largest share of funds, at $299 billion. Funding for broadband infrastructure would total $65 billion; public transit, $61 billion, and airports, $44 billion.
The framework also allocates $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater; $17 billion for ports and inland waterways; $14 billion for water storage; and $13 billion for highway safety.
Alex Etchen, Associated General Contractors of America senior director for infrastructure advancement, said in an interview, "I was encouraged," noting that Republicans included infrastructure sectors beyond highways and bridges.
“I think there is a path forward." he said, but also noting. "It’s still going to come down to ‘How are they going to pay for it?'"
Capito said that the proposal “would be fully paid for.”
The Republicans listed several possible options, including user fees for electric vehicles, "repurposing" for infrastructure already appropriated, but also unspent non-infrastructure funds contained in earlier COVID-19 relief and recovery measures
GOP lawmakers also ruled out other possible revenue-raisers as options, including a gasoline tax hike and rolling back tax breaks in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Biden proposed funding his entire $2-trillion infrastructure package with a hike in the corporate tax reduction from the 2017 law. He also does not support raising the gas tax.
Republicans also want to include faster federal permitting for infrastructure projects. "Our permits take too long,” Capito said. “They’re too costly, they’re too complicated."
But transit advocates were quick to criticize the Republicans’ proposal. Paul Skoutelas, American Public Transportation Association president and CEO, said the plan’s $61-billion allocation represents a $4-billion cut from current funding.
Skoutelas called the proposed allotment “a major step backward for communities that want to rebuild their economy and re-imagine their future.”
Many industry groups issued statements favoring the Republicans’ proposal as advancing the discussion. But the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association underlined the importance of approving a new surface transportation bill by Sept. 30. That could be a stand-alone measure or part of a bigger package.
The surface-transportation legislation, which authorizes funding for federal highway and transit programs, is the only infrastructure category that faces a firm deadline for an authorization bill this year.
All sectors would need to have their fiscal 2022 appropriations approved by Sept. 30, as well.