President Joe Biden’s nearly $2 trillion budget focusing on infrastructure and the climate crisis has been criticized by congressional Republicans as a far-reaching wish list of liberal demands, and they have questioned how the initiative will be paid for.
Nonetheless, they also stated that they believe there is space for bipartisan agreement on infrastructure, as members of both parties have long agreed that funding is required to help shore up and repair the country’s ageing roads and bridges. Now, Republican senators are debating what they will endorse, with some publicly speculating on a price tag much lower than what the White House is proposing.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a CNBC interview on Tuesday that a “sweet spot” for a bipartisan agreement could be between $600 billion and $800 billion.
“What I’d like to do is get back to what I consider the regular definition of infrastructure in terms of job creation. So that’s roads, bridges, ports, airports — including broadband into that — water infrastructure,” Capito said during the interview. “I think the best way for us to do this is hit the sweet spot of where we agree, and I think we can agree on a lot of the measures moving forward. How much? I would say probably into the $600 or $800 billion, but we haven’t put all of that together yet.”
Republicans are debating in concrete terms what they would consider as a possible solution or counter to the President’s proposal, according to the comments. However, the range cited by Capito is substantially lower than that suggested by Biden, highlighting a strong partisan divide on cost.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters on Wednesday that his Republican Senate colleague’s potential $800 billion top-line proposals “seems a little bit,” indicating that Republicans have yet to achieve their agreement. When asked about the prospect of an $800 billion package, Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy told reporters, “If it’s for roads and bridges, I’d be pretty good with it, and associated things.”
Romney also revealed to CNN that a coalition of Republicans was working on their infrastructure plan.
The longer the talks go on without a concrete counteroffer from Republicans, the more pressure they would feel to come up with a new plan.
“We must propose an alternative,” Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters. What would we do if we thought this was too big? How would we cut it down, define it? “How can we pay for it?” says the narrator. Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders pushed back on a potential price tag of $600 billion to $800 billion, claiming that amount would be “nowhere close.”
“We’ve been talking about infrastructure, physical infrastructure for literally decades, Democrats and Republicans. We have major crises in terms of roads, bridges, water systems, affordable housing, you name it, that is nowhere near what we need,” Sanders said when asked about a potential $600 billion figure. “Not to mention, of course, we’ve got to address the existential threat of climate change.”
Sanders is more left-wing than many of the Senate Democrats with whom he caucuses, but his remarks reflect a generally held belief among Democrats that it is critical to go big on infrastructure, a top priority for the party and the President, and that infrastructure no longer means roads and bridges. In the face of Republican resistance, Democrats have made it clear that they are unable to back down substantially on their demands.
“The bottom line is that we have big problems that we must address,” Sanders said.
In the midst of these disagreements over strategy, reach, scale and cost, the chances of a bipartisan agreement are rapidly dwindling on Capitol Hill. Republicans are doubtful that the meetings would result in meaningful change, despite the White House’s offers to host Republicans in the Oval Office and Biden’s continued pledge to reach across the aisle.