The collapse of negotiations between the White House and a group of Senate Republicans on an infrastructure spending package leaves President Joe Biden with two options to advance his ambitious public works vision: bipartisan agreements where possible and budget reconciliation rules where not.
One bipartisan path could be in the reauthorization of the surface transportation law that expires on Sept. 30. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has approved a bipartisan measure, but the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to mark up its version that lacks GOP support starting on Wednesday morning.
“The President is committed to moving his economic legislation through Congress this summer, and is pursuing multiple paths to get this done," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday after the weekslong negotiations between Biden and six Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia on broader infrastructure proposals broke down Tuesday.
In a statement, Capito said Biden chose to end the talks on the broader infrastructure plan.
“While I appreciate President Biden’s willingness to devote so much time and effort to these negotiations, he ultimately chose not to accept the very robust and targeted infrastructure package, and instead, end our discussions," Capito, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said. "However, this does not mean bipartisanship isn’t feasible."
Psaki said Biden spoke with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., about moving ahead with the next budget resolution in order to be ready to pursue the reconciliation option this summer, "so that legislation to advance the President’s economic priorities and tax reform plans could move to the Senate floor in July.”
“The President is committed to moving his economic legislation through Congress this summer, and is pursuing multiple paths to get this done,” she said.
In a brief phone conversation Tuesday, Biden told Capito that her group's offering did not meet the country's infrastructure needs, according to Psaki.
"He offered his gratitude to her for her efforts and good faith conversations, but expressed his disappointment that, while he was willing to reduce his plan by more than $1 trillion, the Republican group had increased their proposed new investments by only $150 billion," Psaki said in a statement.
The spokeswoman said the president also spoke with Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, along with Louisiana GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy, who are all working on a separate infrastructure proposal.
The end of the negotiations comes just as Biden is set to depart for his first overseas trip as president, a swing that will take him to the United Kingdom, Belgium and Switzerland over the next week.
But Biden on Tuesday said he would be in contact with that group by phone while in Europe. He designated his unofficial Jobs Cabinet, which includes Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo, as well as White House aides including Steve Ricchetti, Louisa Terrell and Brian Deese to meet with the group in person to pursue those talks.
Republicans involved in the talks that ended Tuesday said the administration did little to compromise its expansive vision of infrastructure, which included not just roads and bridges, but $400 billion for home and community-based care for the elderly.
“He has never really moved toward us, in terms of core infrastructure,” said one of the GOP negotiators, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. “He had lots of broad requests for things that the American people don't see as infrastructure, and he’s never backed away from his desire to continue to want to raise taxes.”
The collapse of the talks occurs just one day before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is set to markup a five-year, $547 billion highway bill without GOP support. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, meanwhile, May 26 approved its own $312.4 billion plan unanimously. The highway bill is thought to be a cornerstone of Biden’s larger plan and lawmakers have expressed hope that it could be an element of the larger plan that passes on a bipartisan basis.
"We're pursuing a two-path proposal,” Schumer said Tuesday before the Capito-Biden negotiations formally collapsed. “We all know as a caucus, we will not be able to do all the things the country needs in a bipartisan way and so at the same time we are pursuing … reconciliation. And that is going on at the same time.
“And it may well be that part of the bill that will pass will be bipartisan and part of it will be through reconciliation. But we're not going to sacrifice the bigness and boldness in this bill. We will just pursue two paths and at some point they will join."