WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Republicans plan to unveil a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion infrastructure proposal on Thursday, though one of their leaders said on Tuesday the two sides remain far apart.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, leading a six-member Republican negotiating team, told reporters the group could also seek another meeting with Biden in an 11th-hour bid to reach a bipartisan deal to revitalize America’s roads, bridges and other facilities.
The No. 3 Senate Republican, John Barrasso, sounded a pessimistic note, telling reporters: “We are now very far apart. We were pretty close when we met with President Biden in the White House.”
It was not clear what the updated Republican package would contain. The group initially proposed a $568 billion, five-year framework here. Capito said the proposal has been recalibrated along the same eight-year horizon as Biden’s plan. Such a change could increase its size to around $1 trillion.
Republicans, who met with Biden on May 13, have been disappointed by recent talks with administration officials including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and others.
“I think that we’ve got good momentum, but we’ll see what their reaction is,” said Capito, top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“The president will not be surprised at the more outlined and specific offer that he’s going to receive, and it will absolutely be in line with parameters that he suggested in those areas,” Senator Roger Wicker, top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, told reporters without elaborating.
The sides are still struggling to agree on a basic definition of infrastructure and have made little progress on how to pay for the package. If talks stall, Biden and his fellow Democrats in Congress could decide to move forward at the end of the month without Republicans. Biden in March signed sweeping COVID-19 relief legislation passed in Congress without Republican support.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the administration is concerned about Republican opposition to altering a 2017 tax law, signed by former President Donald Trump, to increase taxes on the wealthy and companies.
“We are waiting to hear back from Republicans on how they would propose to pay for” the infrastructure legislation if they oppose raising taxes, Psaki told reporters.
Democrats narrowly control both chambers of Congress. House of Representatives Democrats have identified July 4 as their target date for passing infrastructure legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters his plan is to “work on an infrastructure bill in July.”
Biden’s proposal includes traditional infrastructure projects on roads and bridges but also seeks to rechart the direction of the U.S. economy with an additional focus on fighting climate change and boosting social programs.
Republicans want an approach limited to roads, bridges, airports, waterways and broadband access.
Republicans rejected a White House move last week that pared down Biden’s proposal to $1.7 trillion here from an original $2.25 trillion. They expressed disappointment that the offer still contained social spending provisions and tax hikes on U.S. corporations that they have opposed.
Republicans want to pay for a package in part by diverting unused COVID-19 relief funds to infrastructure projects.
Other members of the Republican infrastructure team are Senators Mike Crapo, Roy Blunt and Pat Toomey.
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