Senate Democrats prepare to work on Biden infrastructure plan 'with or without' Republicans

Key Points
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats will work to craft an infrastructure bill next month, with or without Republican support.
  • President Joe Biden is in negotiations with Senate Republicans on a potential bipartisan plan.
  • The parties remain far from agreement on not only what would go into the infrastructure plan but on how they would pay for it.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) touts Senate Democrats legislative accomplishments as he holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 25, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Pool | Reuters

Senate Democrats plan to forge ahead with crafting a massive infrastructure package next month — regardless of whether Republicans get on board — as they push to pass a bill this summer.

Senators will be out of Washington next week for the Memorial Day holiday. When lawmakers return, Democrats aim to write an infrastructure plan that touches on everything from transportation to broadband, utilities and job training.

"As the President continues to discuss infrastructure legislation with Senate Republicans, the committees will hold hearings and continue their work on the Build Back Better agenda — with or without the support of Republican Senators," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote in a letter to Democrats on Friday. "We must pass comprehensive jobs and infrastructure legislation this summer."

President Joe Biden has worked with Senate Republicans to see if they can strike a bipartisan deal to revamp American infrastructure. After the latest back-and-forth in their talks, the sides appear far from an agreement on what should go into a bill and how the government should pay for it.

As the White House and Republicans struggle to reach a consensus, some Democrats have called on their party to try to pass a bill without GOP support. Democrats can do so through the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority vote in the evenly split Senate.

Republicans on Thursday sent Biden a $928 billion infrastructure counteroffer. It came in at roughly half of the $1.7 trillion proposal the White House last sent the GOP. The Biden administration first put forward a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan.

Responding to the offer, White House press secretary Jen Psaki praised "constructive" additions to road, bridge and rail spending. She said the White House "remains concerned" about Republicans' proposed spending on modernizing railways and transitioning to clean energy, along with the party's calls to pay for infrastructure with previously passed coronavirus relief funds.

The White House has said it expects nearly all of the aid money to be spent. Redirecting the funds could jeopardize support for small businesses and hospitals, Psaki said.

Mitch McConnell on infrastructure proposals: We're going to keep talking
Mitch McConnell on infrastructure proposals: We're going to keep talking

Despite the lingering differences, the sides expect to continue talks. Biden could meet again with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the West Virginia Republican leading negotiations with the White House, as soon as next week.

The parties will have to work through two huge disagreements to strike a deal. First, they have disparate visions of what counts as infrastructure.

The White House wants to include programs such as care for elderly and disabled Americans, which it calls vital for putting Americans back to work and boosting the economy. Republicans want to limit the legislation to areas including transportation, broadband and water.

Biden and Republicans could also struggle to find a compromise on how to pay for the infrastructure plan. The president wants to hike the corporate tax rate to at least 25% — and crack down on corporate tax avoidance overseas and individual tax underpayment at home — to offset the spending.

The GOP has said it will not support changes to its 2017 tax cuts as part of an infrastructure bill. The party slashed the corporate rate to 21% from 35%.

It is unclear how much longer talks will go on if Democrats and Republicans cannot strike a deal. On Thursday, Capito said Republicans "continue to negotiate in good faith."

In his letter, Schumer noted that he was "encouraged" by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advancing a roughly $300 billion bipartisan surface transportation bill this week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who previously said he would work to fight Biden's broader economic agenda, said Thursday that his party would continue to engage with the president.

"We'd like to get an outcome on a significant infrastructure package," he told CNBC.

Democrats passed Biden's first big-ticket bill, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, without a Republican vote in March.

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