Biden breaks off $1.7T infrastructure talks with GOP negotiator Capito
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Two bipartisan groups of lawmakers — one in the House and one in the Senate — are moving forward with compromise infrastructure proposals of their own after President Biden ceased talks with Senate Republicans and gave Democrats the green light to proceed without them.
In the Senate, a group of eight members including Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) met Tuesday evening to continue their negotiations on a potential infrastructure deal valued at around $900 billion.
While the group had been working on a deal for months, their efforts had received little media attention compared to Biden’s negotiations with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who was given the blessing of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnnell (R-Ky.) to negotiate on behalf of his caucus.
After leaving their Tuesday meeting, Romney expressed cautious optimism about the potential for a deal, warning reporters, “This group is making a lot of progress, but we have a total of 100 senators, not eight.”
The eight are part of a larger group of 20 senators who have been committed to finding bipartisanship in a divided Congress.
The group, Romney explained, was “a little less solid” on how to pay for the items in the bill.
In the House, the Problem Solvers Caucus voted Tuesday to endorse their $1.25 trillion compromise infrastructure proposal.
Should the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of 28 Democrats and 28 Republicans in the lower chamber of Congress, push their effort through, it would provide $761.8 billion in new spending over eight years.
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment on whether Biden had spoken to anyone from the House caucus, which is co-chaired by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), since walking away from the Capito negotiations.
After letting the West Virginia Republican know by phone on Tuesday that he wouldn’t be continuing negotiations, Biden called Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
On those calls, he gave the Democratic leaders permission to move forward on legislation that could only be passed with Democrats through budget reconciliation.
Budget reconciliation allows the majority party to bypass the legislative filibuster, the Senate rule requiring 60 members to end debate on most topics and move forward to a vote.
The Senate is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, though Vice President Kamala Harris, as Senate president, has a tie-breaking vote. Still, 51 votes are not enough under current rules to break through the filibuster.
Speaking to Fox News in an interview Wednesday after the talks fell through, Capito expressed frustration that the White House “kept moving the goalposts on us.”
“I’m a bit disappointed and frustrated that the White House really kept moving the ball on me and then just finally brought me negotiations that were untenable and then ended the negotiations altogether,” she told the network.
Asked about the Problem Solvers’ proposal, she couldn’t say what its fate would be when brought to a vote.
“I’m not sure how many Republicans will go with the Problem Solvers. We’ll have to see how they work it out. I think all ideas are welcome.”
In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the president phoned Cassidy, Manchin and Sinema — all weary of ramming a bill of this size through without any compromise.
Biden initially proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan in March. But Republicans led by Capito presented a $928 billion counteroffer after Biden came down to $1.7 trillion. Republicans wanted to pay for some of the bill with unused COVID-19 funds.
Some Democrats want to ram Biden’s large original package through Congress without any GOP votes via reconciliation — as they did in March to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill.
Since April, Biden took pains to present himself as genuinely interested in compromise with Republicans on infrastructure spending — despite lurking conservative suspicion that he ultimately would try to ram through a one-party bill.
Biden was elected on a platform of “unity” and bipartisanship and entered the White House as a three-decade veteran of the Senate, where he and McConnell developed a personal friendship.
In the early days of his presidency, Biden invited a group of GOP senators to the Oval Office to discuss proposals for COVID-19 relief.
The meeting was his first with any lawmakers since taking office, and the effort toward unity was largely praised from both sides of the aisle.
While the group — which included Portman and Romney — offered optimistic comments on the potential for bipartisanship after the meeting, nothing ever materialized.
The president opted to move forward with a largely progressive agenda, choosing to pursue legislation that did not garner any GOP backing.
The two-part “Build Back Better” proposal, a centerpiece of Biden’s post-COVID campaign message, will be split into two packages for Congress to pass.
The first, the “American Jobs Plan,” focuses on infrastructure, while the second is aimed at funding Democrats’ domestic policy platform.
In order to pay for the package, the federal government would impose a slew of new taxes, the administration revealed alongside the plan last month.
A large part of the disagreements between Democrats and Republicans has centered on the definition of “infrastructure,” and whether Biden was allowing the definition to be used too broadly.
With Post wires
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