Talks with GOP senators fall apart

U.S. President Joe Biden departs after speaking in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Samuel Corum | Bloomberg | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Negotiations between the White House and a small group of Republican senators over a bipartisan infrastructure bill collapsed on Tuesday, weighed down by deep disagreements over what constitutes infrastructure and how much money should be allocated for it.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, W.Va., the lead Republican negotiator, said President Joe Biden had spoken to her by phone and ended the negotiations.

“I spoke with the president this afternoon, and he ended our infrastructure negotiations,” Moore Capito said in a statement.

“Throughout our negotiations, we engaged respectfully, fully, and very candidly—delivering several serious counteroffers that each represented the largest infrastructure investment Republicans have put forth,” she said.

With no grand bargain in sight, Biden on Tuesday reached out to at least one member of a bipartisan group of senators who have been quietly working on backup infrastructure plans.

Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., tweeted that Biden “brought up flood resiliency and energy provisions” that would boost his state.

“Strongly support [Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s] efforts. Any infrastructure package should and must be bipartisan,” he wrote.

Other senators working together on an alternative include Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

They aim to win over as many as 20 centrist senators to back their plan once it is finalized.The lawmakers crafting the proposal will meet on Tuesday afternoon.

While it is unclear what a final plan would contain, it could cost just under $900 billion, according to reports. The price tag would be roughly half of Biden’s last $1.7 trillion offer to the GOP.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the senators “are trying to put something together that might be closer to what the president needs” than Capito’s offer.

While Capito last sent Biden an offer approaching $1 trillion, only a fraction of it would be new spending.

But congressional leaders have not yet put their weight behind the larger group of senators’ talks.

As the most centrist Democratic senator, Manchin will play an outsized role in any eventual bill that is passed by the Senate, and so far he has insisted that any infrastructure bill be bipartisan.

His stance could force his party to embrace a smaller, bipartisan infrastructure package, then address other priorities including care for dependent family members and clean energy in separate bills.

Biden is also in touch with Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the Democratic chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

On Wednesday, DeFazio’s committee will mark up a massive reauthorization bill to fund surface transportation and highways for the next five years. Considered a “must-pass” spending bill, the highway bill could be altered to include several planks of Biden’s signature infrastructure plan.

This is a developing story. please check back for updates.

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