Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday demanded that a “clear direction” on infrastructure talks is needed by June 7, when members of Congress return from recess, after a group of GOP senators responded to President Biden’s infrastructure plan last week with a proposal that accounts for a fraction of the $1.7 trillion in spending that the White House has proposed.
“This week Congress is out of Washington, but it’s very much going to be a workweek for us and for the conversations that are ongoing with Congress,” Buttigieg said, during an interview on CNN. “By the time that they return, which is June 7, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction.”
Buttigieg said that although ongoing negotiations on both sides of the aisle have been “encouraging,” the President has made clear that “inaction is not an option.”
“You know, certainly encouraging to see the healthy conversations that have happened over the last days and weeks, but the President keeps saying inaction is not an option and time is not unlimited here,” Buttigieg said. “The American people expect us to do something, they expect us to deliver. And it’s my hope that these continued conversations really over these next few days will be productive and will lead to that clear direction.”
Asked whether Democrats would proceed with their infrastructure proposal without Republicans if the two sides fail to reach a consensus by June 7, Buttigieg warned against negotiations going on “forever.”
“I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment,” Buttigieg said, before noting that “on the fishing side of things, the negotiations have been healthy.”
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says there needs to be a “clear direction” on infrastructure by June 7. "The President keeps saying, 'inaction is not an option' and time is not unlimited here. The American people expect us to do something." #CNNOSOTU pic.twitter.com/SK2PIPr3L1
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 30, 2021
Buttigieg’s remarks follow weeks of Republicans dragging out mostly unproductive negotiations for weeks as lawmakers and the White House struggle to find common ground on what should be included in the infrastructure package and how to pay for it.
Biden initially set a Memorial Day deadline for the infrastructure talks. But with Senate Republicans’ $928 billion counteroffer to Biden’s $1.7 trillion proposal, the White House and congressional Republicans have hit a stalemate on negotiations.
Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is spearheading GOP efforts in infrastructure negotiations, stood by Senate Republicans’ latest counteroffer.
“The President basically tasked us to come back with something close to $1 trillion in areas and the scope that we as Republicans feel constitutes infrastructure,” Capito said. “Also, we could spread it over an eight-year period of time, and that’s exactly what we have done.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who also appeared on CNN on Sunday, argued that prolonging negotiations with Republicans on infrastructure is a “misstep.”
“We are about to miss the moment that we have to answer the need of this country. We are in an important, an important time, where people need government to work for them. So we have to answer that moment with bold reforms … I would go forward,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand then urged fellow Democrats to vote together through reconciliation — a process that made Biden’s first legislative victory with the passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package possible.
"I don't think there's necessarily good will behind all negotiations," says Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand when asked about negotiating with the GOP on infrastructure. "I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep. I would go forward" #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/LjBQNMWp9c
— State of the Union (@CNNSotu) May 30, 2021
Last week, the White House took aim at the GOP counterproposal’s shortcomings.
“We remain concerned that their plan still provides no substantial new funds for critical job-creating needs, such as fixing our veterans’ hospitals, building modern rail systems, repairing our transit systems, removing dangerous lead pipes, and powering America’s leadership in a job-creating clean energy economy, among other things,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a statement.
“Lastly, we are concerned that the proposal on how to pay for the plan remains unclear: we are worried that major cuts in COVID relief funds could imperil pending aid to small businesses, restaurants and rural hospitals using this money to get back on their feet after the crush of the pandemic,” she added.