May 20, 2022

President Joe Biden points his finger at the April job report from the East Room of the White House in Washington, United States, on May 7, 2021.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

WASHINGTON – The clock is ticking this week on President Joe Biden’s goal of reaching a settlement with Republicans in Congress to support some if not all of his far-reaching infrastructure proposals.

After weeks of White House advisers’ liaison with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the President is holding high-profile meetings this week with influential Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, whose contributions could shape the outline of a final bill.

There are a number of reasons to be cautiously optimistic that Biden can reach a deal with the Republicans, especially if he agrees to split the massive $ 1.8 trillion package of the US employment plan into two or more separate ones Split bills.

But with each passing day the gap between the partisans on how to pay for the much-needed infrastructure investments is growing.

Democrats have so far rejected a Republican proposal to fund the plan through user fees. White House officials said this was a tax hike for middle-class Americans who drive.

Instead, the Democrats are proposing to raise the corporate tax rate and fill in loopholes that would effectively mean corporations and the richest Americans are paying for the plan.

However, Republicans say changes to the low tax rates envisaged in their 2017 tax cut bill are no novice.

So where are the prospects for a bipartisan bill?

Proponents and analysts on both sides of the aisle agree: there is currently no visible area of ​​overlap between Democratic and Republican funding plans.

Under any other president, this would effectively put all hopes of a draft compromise on DOA. But with Biden in charge, they say, the math is different.

“We have never had a president devoting so much time and political capital to infrastructure,” said Kevin DeGood, who heads the infrastructure policy team at the Progressive Center for American Progress.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about a compromise bill as it is a personal priority for the president,” said Republican strategist Michael Steel, a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and former top advisor to then Speaker of Parliament, John Boehner, R-Ohio.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that the search for a bipartisan compromise comes straight from Biden himself.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press conference at the White House in Washington on April 26, 2021.

Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

“He’s pretty open, as evidenced by the fact that he invited Sen. [Shelley Moore] Capito and a group of members will meet with him at the White House later that week. He is very open to a discussion about: where we can find agreement, where we can move forward. “

After meeting Monday with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Tom Carper of Delaware, the president is expected to meet Wednesday with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R. -Ky., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Biden will then meet with six Republican senators, including Capito, to discuss a possible compromise on Thursday. West Virginia Republican Capito led a $ 568 billion GOP infrastructure proposal last month.

Still, there are doubts that Biden’s enthusiasm for a deal can demonstrate the deep divide between the two party’s priorities.

“Extremely far apart”

“The two sides are still very far apart, not just in terms of total spending, but also in terms of the courage of their respective plans and what they are trying to achieve,” DeGood told CNBC.

Biden’s proposal calls for hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for traditional infrastructure projects like road and bridge repairs.

But it also includes billions more spending on expanding the power grid, empowering elderly and disabled Americans, investing in affordable housing, and expanding broadband access.

And Biden has so far refused to agree to funding the plan that would add to the federal deficit, and insists that all provisions in one invoice be prepaid.

Republicans have taken Biden’s expansive definition of “infrastructure” to oppose much of his proposal. In April, Republican senators released the framework of a counteroffer on infrastructure that would cost about a quarter of what Biden is proposing.

Republicans also say Biden’s refusal to fund the plan through user fees or deficit spending is unsustainable.

“I don’t understand why the infrastructure has to be paid for within the bill,” said Steel, the Republican strategist.

“Given the current low interest rates, why should it be forbidden to make these improvements that encourage economic growth and fund them with some expense?” he said.

Regarding the Democratic proposal to raise the corporate tax rate, Steel said Republicans were united in their opposition.

“I don’t see any tax hikes at all. And Republicans will see it as a tax hike to close tax loopholes,” he said.

As negotiations continue this week, Biden has said he has only two red lines: inaction and tax increases for people making less than $ 400,000.

But many ordinary Democrats are suspicious of the motives of their GOP colleagues.

“Dealing with the infrastructure and the Republicans always feels like Lucy and the football to me, with Charlie Brown. Every time we get close, they pull the football away,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill, DN.J. , on Monday on MSNBC.

Sherrill also noted that her concern “had less to do with the top line [funding] Number and more that has to do with what is in the package. ”

The longer the negotiations go on, the greater the likelihood that unrelated events will move Biden’s hand one way or the other.

External forces play a role

The disappointing April employment numbers, released on Friday, have bolstered the government’s fall in recent days as to why a comprehensive job creation law is currently needed.

According to DeGood of the Center for American Progress, slow employment growth in April gave Democrats “even more momentum to hold on to this fight as this is their signature on domestic job creation”.

Biden previously said that 75% of the jobs his American employment plan would create are for people who only have a high school diploma.

This week’s public debate over infrastructure also affects news that one of America’s largest energy pipeline operators, Colonial Pipeline, has been crippled by a ransomware cyberattack.

Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNBC on Monday the attack highlighted the unique vulnerabilities of our current infrastructure and why it needs to be sustained.

“The infrastructure of the 20th century will be particularly fragile, so we need to plan to future-proof the assets we have across the country,” Buttigieg said.

Biden has set an unofficial Memorial Day deadline to reach an agreement with Republicans.

If Biden fails to reach a bipartisan compromise on the plan, he and Congress Democrats have announced that they will use the budget vote to pass an infrastructure package for a purely party-political vote that only requires 51 votes in the Senate.