The funding gap between the White House and a group of Senate Republicans negotiating a major infrastructure package, though still large, has narrowed, following the latest counteroffer from the GOP lawmakers.
The Republicans’ new proposal, released May 27, totals $962 billion over eight years. That’s still far less than the most recent White House offer, released on May 22, of about $1.7 trillion over the same time period.
But the GOP lawmakers’ latest counterproposal also is up markedly from their initial $568 billion, though that proposal used a five-year span.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the Republicans' lead negotiator, told reporters on May 27, "It's a serious effort to try to reach a bipartisan agreement."
[View Senate Republicans' press conference here.]
The revised GOP proposal drew a relatively positive reaction from the White House and there were indications that the talks would continue.
A major business group sees the new proposal as an encouraging sign. Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's executive vice president and chief policy officer, in a statement, called the new Republican proposal "represents a good-faith offer and is a significant step in the right direction."
President Joe Biden, getting ready to board Air Force One for an event in the Cleveland area, said he hadn't yet reviewed the details of the new proposal, but said, "I had a good conversation—very brief, but a good conversation" over the phone with Capito and added she is "going to contact me next week."
Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement, "It's encouraging to see [Capito's] group come forward with a substantially increased...funding level—nearing $1 trillion."
Psaki also said the new offer has "several constructive additions" from the senators' previous proposals, citing "roads, bridges and rail."
Still, she added that "we remain concerned that their plan still provides no substantial new funds for critical job-creating needs,” such as improvements to veterans’ hospitals, removing lead drinking-water pipes, “building modern rail systems” and clean energy.
Funding, by Category
The elements of the Republicans' new proposal are:
--Roads, bridges, "major projects," $506 billion
--Public transit, $98 billion
--Water infrastructure, including drinking water and wastewater treatment, $72 billion
--Broadband infrastructure, $65 billion (one-time allocation)
--Airports, $56 billion (one-time allocation)
--Passenger and freight rail, $46 billion
--Ports and waterways, $22 billion
--Western water storage, $22 billion
--Safety, $21 billion
--Infrastructure financing, $20 billion
Besides the broadband and airports amounts, the other sectors' totals include current baseline funding. The highway and bridges total, for example, includes an increase of $91 billion over current levels, according to a memo the senators sent to the White House outlining their proposal.
The roads and bridges category also has three items that did not appear in earlier GOP proposals: resilience projects would receive $14 billion; new charging stations for electric vehicles would get $4 billion; and measures aimed at “reconnecting communities” would receive $800 million.
The last item refers to projects to address the harm done to communities, mostly economically disadvantaged ones, by past highways and other projects that cut off neighborhoods from other parts of a region.
As evidence of a bipartisan success, Capito pointed to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's unanimous approval one day earlier of a five-year. $303.5-billion highway bill. She said the highway measure is "a major anchor to this [broader] piece of legislation."
Besides the remaining differences in the funding levels, another sticking point continues to be how to pay for the increased funding.
Biden has proposed offsetting the cost of the package by pulling back on the 2017 Jobs and Tax Cuts Act's reduction corporate income tax rate. Republicans have called that a non-starter.
In their memo to the White House, the Senate Republicans said that for revenue-raisers they are proposing "a combination of repurposed funding from previous COVID relief packages, user fees, and infrastructure financing."
The memo doesn't specify how much they expect to raise from each of those avenues, nor does it say which user fees and types of infrastructure financing they are considering.
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), a Republican negotiator, told reporters the amount of unspent COVID-legislation funds is "many hundreds of billions."
He estimated that the Highway Trust Fund can produce $355 billion over the eight-year period, leaving a shortfall of $575 billion needed to cover the costs of the new Republican proposal.
Psaki said White House officials “are concerned that the proposal on how to pay for the plan remains unclear," and added that "we are worried that major cuts in COVID relief funds could imperil pending aid to small businesses, restaurants and rural hospitals using this money to get back on their feet after the crush of the pandemic.”
In a meeting with reporters on Air Force One, Psaki said that 95% of the most recent COVID aid measures, the American Rescue Plan, is "already allocated."