What to watch as Congress gears up for work on Biden’s infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden has said he’s willing to negotiate over infrastructure, a key legislative priority for the White House. There are signs, however, that Republican opposition remains as strong as ever, underscoring the challenge that awaits Democrats who face their own internal divisions over policy and strategy as they try to negotiate and pass a plan.

Biden on Monday met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers as part of his push to get Capitol Hill on board with his roughly $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. The meeting did not include members of congressional leadership or high-profile moderates. Instead, the group was made up of lawmakers from both parties who have a history of working on infrastructure and sit on the committees that will shape the proposal as it moves through Congress.

“I’m prepared to negotiate as to the extent of my infrastructure project, as well as how we pay for it,” Biden said at the Oval Office meeting, striking a conciliatory tone.

Republicans have taken issue with the size and scope of the infrastructure package as well as how it’s paid for, arguing that Democrats are including a liberal wish list of items in their plan that threaten to derail a bipartisan compromise.

GOP Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican and one of the lawmakers to attend the meeting with Biden, said in a statement to CNN that he found Biden had “an appetite for bipartisanship,” but warned that addressing needs that move too far beyond the literal definition of infrastructure “could sink the bill.”

Here’s what else to watch as Congress gets to the process of turning these negotiations into legislation:

What one key Republican says after the meeting

One major issue that Republicans have raised is with how the President plans to pay for the legislation.

The infrastructure spending plan is the first of a two-part proposal to help the nation’s economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The President plans to pay for this part of his recovery package by raising corporate taxes — a core campaign promise the administration says would raise more than $2 trillion over the next 15 years.

Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who was in the White House meeting with Biden on Monday, told reporters that “clearly there are parts of his program that are nonstarters for Republicans. The pay-for is a problem.”

He said that he told the President that the tax hikes in his infrastructure package would not win over Republicans.

Biden would raise the corporate income tax rate to 28%, up from 21%. The rate had been as high as 35% before former President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans cut taxes in 2017.

“It would be an almost impossible sell for the President to come to a bipartisan agreement that included undoing that signature law,” Wicker said. “I did tell him that. He disagrees.”

Wicker said they had a “lively discussion” overall and Biden was “highly engaged,” but he said it’s still an open question as to whether there will be a bipartisan deal, even as they discussed shared priorities such as improving rural broadband and water infrastructure.

Democrats have set the clock

If Democrats can’t win Republican votes in the Senate, passing a plan via reconciliation would allow them to rely only on Democratic votes.

But even that could pose challenges for the party as moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has forcefully urged bipartisanship, telling CNN recently, “Reconciliation was never intended to be our main focus or our main vehicle for legislation. That’s not legislating.”

For now, even amid GOP opposition to major elements of the plan, the White House is clearly trying to show a willingness to reach across party lines.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald Payne, one of the lawmakers to participate in the bipartisan meeting, told reporters afterward of the President, “He’s ready and willing to negotiate and I think the Republicans were kind of surprised at his posture with respect to that. He is absolutely trying to meet them where we can get something done.”

There will of course be a limit to what Democrats are willing to do to reach across the aisle, however.

Payne said Biden did not seem open to lowering the tax rate, though he said, “he’s willing to discuss it.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, said Biden made it clear to both sides that he plans to push for a broad package.

“I think his main point was like we’re not gonna go small, we’re going to get this right,” Cantwell said. “You know he wants a big package because the investment level is needed.”

Striking a note of caution, Young said in his statement on the meeting, however, “We must be very cautious about the goals of this bill and even the very definition of infrastructure. Roads, bridges, and ports are undoubtedly infrastructure, and I believe that energy grids, broadband, and clean water can fit the definition as well. But I have concern that moving too far beyond this could sink the bill.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that she wants a bill to pass the House by July 4. When asked by CNN recently if she’s willing to scale back the price tag to win over Republicans, Pelosi said, “It can’t be too small because what we’re talking about now needs to be transformative and it has to be big.”

What’s in the bill

The President’s plan would heavily invest in rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and shift to greener energy over the next eight years.

Among a number of provisions in the proposal:

  • Biden would spend $621 billion on roads, bridges, public transit, rail, ports, waterways, airports and electric vehicles in service of improving air quality, reducing congestion and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The plan would invest $213 billion toward building, renovating and retrofitting more than two million homes and housing units.
  • Biden is also calling on Congress to invest $180 billion to advance US leadership in critical technologies, upgrade the US’s research infrastructure and establish the US as a leader in climate science, innovation and research and development.

For a more in-depth look at what’s in the proposal, check out CNN’s breakdown of the plan from late last month.

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