Republican senators released their counterproposal to President Biden’s infrastructure package on Thursday, a $568 billion outline that is short on details but provides their colleagues with a way of not voting for the $2.3 trillion that Biden has proposed.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) described the plan, based on a document circulated by GOP senators, as “a beginning document” during a press conference.
Though the proposal lacks specifics on many items, it does devote space to include a definition of “infrastructure” that limits the term to cover a small range of brick-and-mortar projects.
It also commits the GOP to a wider range of nos than it does to yeses: it eliminates any change to the Trump tax cut legislation as a means of paying for infrastructure, while demanding that all infrastructure bills be covered “to avoid increasing the debt.”
The move comes as Republicans have struggled to turn public opinion against some of Biden’s more popular proposals. Capito described the document as an opportunity to “DEFINE infrastructure” and “establish clear principles.”
Let’s be clear, @potus’ proposal goes beyond what constitutes infrastructure.
Today, we set a clear path forward on core principles that DEFINE infrastructure & address our country’s needs.
This framework continues our conversations w/Democrat colleagues & the administration. pic.twitter.com/iuRbZsv4kw
— Shelley Moore Capito (@SenCapito) April 22, 2021
The Biden administration has proposed a $2.3 trillion bill that would modernize homes for climate change, eliminate lead water pipes in the U.S., and expand semiconductor manufacturing, amid an array of other investments.
The GOP Plan
The document a group of Republican senators released Thursday was not much more detailed than what they’d already previewed to reporters, though it did specify the monetary breakdown.
The bulk of it, $299 billion, would go to roads and bridges. Then there’s a precipitous drop to the next tier of spending, $65 billion for broadband and $61 billion for public transit.
The rest of it is doled out as follows:
- $44 billion for airports
- $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater systems
- $20 billion for railways
- $17 billion for ports and inland waterways
- $14 billion for water storage
- $13 billion for safety measures
The Republican outline omits any “human infrastructure” planks the Democrats plan to introduce — including an extension of the child tax credit and free community college tuition for all — but also bypasses Democratic priorities like investment in green energy.
“I think we fully expect when we get to the negotiating phase that climate will be part of the discussion,” Capito said Thursday.
No Way To Pay?
The counterproposal echoes previous Republican efforts by taking any way to pay for infrastructure spending off the table.
The section of the document devoted to pay-fors is skimpy on details, but GOP senators commit themselves to two principles:
- The cost of infrastructure legislation must be covered to avoid “increasing the debt.”
- Trump’s tax cuts must be preserved, specifically the state and local tax deduction.
Those two commitments foreclose virtually any way to pay for the legislation.
In the first one, Republicans say that they will reject any attempt to deficit-finance infrastructure. Therefore, the government must find new revenue sources to pay for the proposal.
But in the second, GOP senators say they’re against changing revisions to the tax code signed into law during the Trump.
The only way out, then, is to “repurpose unused federal spending,” or a tax on electric vehicle usage that is mentioned in the document. It comes as Republicans attempt to stoke the flames of fear around the national debt, with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) suggesting this week that Republicans should use the filibuster to force a debate around the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling has been suspended for two years, but that ends on July 31. Congress will then need to either raise the ceiling or suspend it again — unless the GOP is willing to make good on Scott’s threat of default.
What Biden Has Proposed
The Biden plan — expected, in its full, multi-part form — to clock in around $4 trillion according to the New York Times, will include the American Jobs Plan Biden has previously described. It focuses on physical infrastructure and would be funded by a tax hike on corporations, something Republicans adamantly oppose.
The second portion, the “human infrastructure” piece, would cover everything from universal pre-kindergarten to a national paid leave program. To pay for that chunk, Biden proposes various methods of taxing the wealthiest Americans, including raising taxes on capital gains and raising the top marginal tax rate.
It is not yet clear what the logistics of passing the plan will look like — some Democrats have floated separating the physical and human infrastructure pieces into separate bills. But Democrats are running low on reconciliation vehicles, the budgetary measure that lets them pass legislation with a simple majority and circumvent the legislative filibuster.
They used the first to pass the American Rescue Plan (a vehicle left over from Congress not passing a 2021 budget resolution) and have the 2022 budget vehicle at their disposal. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is trying out a creative interpretation of the underlying budget law — one he says the Senate parliamentarian gave him the greenlight on — to eke out more reconciliation vehicles. But it’s still unclear what that will actually mean, and if the more conservative Democrats will allow further governing without any Republican participation.
The White House insists that it wants bipartisan buy-in on the infrastructure package, and has been holding meetings with Republican members in both chambers. Still, based on recent comments from Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, one of Biden’s key ambassadors on the infrastructure plan, as well as Republican lines in the sand, an ultimately partisan effort still seems likely.
“If they come forward with whatever the number is, six, seven, 800 billion, well, then that’s a starting point for further negotiation,” she told Politico of the Republicans. “In the end, the President feels very strongly the whole package needs to get through Congress. And if it has to be on partisan lines, then I suppose that that’s the way it’ll have to be.”