Democrats unimpressed by GOP’s $568 billion infrastructure plan

Republicans want counteroffer to be a starting point to negotiations

"If we don’t put any ideas on the table, shame on us," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., after unveiling the GOP plan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
"If we don’t put any ideas on the table, shame on us," said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., after unveiling the GOP plan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 22, 2021 at 5:44pm

Senate Republicans characterize their newly unveiled five-year, $568 billion counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s eight-year, $2 trillion infrastructure proposal as a starting point to serious negotiations. Democrats dismissed the proposal as not serious at all.

“The issue is, are Republicans going to be serious about getting over the bar of being serious,” Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said after the plan was released Thursday. “Because this was not a real proposal."

Wyden called the proposal “light years out of the ballpark in terms of being able to get a bipartisan compromise,” not just because it was far less than what Biden called for, but because “big corporations, they're constantly using roads, bridges and infrastructure, pay not a penny, and families basically get stuck with the bill." 

His complaint echoed those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who even before the plan was released dismissed it as “not big enough to meet our need.”

The GOP plan, crafted by a group led by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking Republican Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., adheres strictly to Republicans’ more narrow definition of infrastructure than to the Democrats' proposal. It would include $299 billion for roads and bridges, $61 billion for public transit, $20 billion for rail and $35 billion for drinking and wastewater.

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It also proposes $13 billion for safety, including the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, as well as $17 billion for ports and inland waterways and $44 billion for airports. It includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure and $14 billion for water storage.

Rather than setting a goal of reducing emissions, as Biden’s plan did, it focused on securing infrastructure in a way to make it withstand extreme weather events. 

The framework on many counts spends just a fraction of what Biden’s eight-year plan would for many modes. 

Biden calls for spending $80 billion toward Amtrak, $85 billion for transit, and calls for rebuilding the nation’s water infrastructure to the tune of $111 billion. Beyond that, it would invest in schools, the electric grid, workforce development and expanding access to care for the aging and those with disabilities — what administration officials call “care infrastructure."

Republicans surpassed Biden’s plan by calling for $44 billion for airports compared to the $25 billion Biden would spend; $299 billion for roads and bridges compared to the $115 billion Biden proposes; and an identical amount, $17 billion, for inland waterways and ports.

‘Big proposal’

The GOP initially estimated that their plan would be between $600 billion and $800 billion. Still, said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over rail and safety, “this is a big proposal.” 

He called the $568 billion figure “a very, very generous offer in dealing with infrastructure.”

Wicker said the group sent the proposal to Biden about a half-hour before releasing it at a news conference. "We think a number of our Democratic colleagues will want to negotiate with us. We’re ready to start this afternoon. We’re ready to put our staffs together this weekend here in the Senate and also with the White House," he said.

The plan does not offer specifics on how it would be paid for but lists key principles: avoiding increasing the debt, shoring up any infrastructure-related trust fund such as the Highway Trust Fund, ensuring that users of electric vehicles are also paying for highways, and repurposing unused federal spending. The plan rejects the reversal of any of the 2017 tax cuts (PL 115-97). Biden proposes paying for his plan primarily through corporate tax increases.  

The GOP group also included Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee; Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which has jurisdiction over transit; and Sen. Michael D. Crapo, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over paying for the bill.

Capito told reporters after the press conference that the Highway Trust Fund would be “the anchor” for highway funding, but would include charges for highway users who do not pay into the gas tax-funded trust fund, such as electric vehicles. 

“We need to let the Finance Committee do their work here,” she said.

Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called it promising that Republicans were coming to the table at all.

“It shows Republicans are interested in figuring out a solution,” he said. “I don’t think the Biden proposal as introduced is going to get enacted into law and probably not the Capito proposal. But it shows a good faith effort to continue good, bipartisan conversations.”

The GOP proposal did not have a specific line item for electric vehicles, which would receive $174 billion in Biden's plan, but Capito dismissed the notion that it would not be addressed in the final version of the bill. 

"We fully expect that when we get to the negotiating phase that climate will be a part of the discussion," she said, noting a GOP-led highway bill that passed the Environment and Public Works Committee in 2019 included provisions for charging infrastructure and electric vehicle innovation. 

"In terms of EVs, I don't think you can say they're not a part of this plan," she said. 

She characterized the plan as a starting point for negotiations and said she rolled out the counteroffer early in part because the White House urged Republicans to get their ideas on the table.

“We want to have this sooner than later — that's why I went ahead and insisted that we go ahead and put something out that our members can talk about,” Capito said. “Because if we don’t put any ideas on the table, shame on us.”

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.