WASHINGTON – Like President Joe Biden doubles when searching Republican cooperation for an infrastructure package, some Democratic allies say he should be willing to do it alone if a deal doesn’t come soon.
The White House wants to see counterbids to Biden’s $ 2.25 trillion infrastructure plan by the middle of this month, and if no progress is made by Memorial Day, officials will reassess their strategy to build bipartisan support, a person who said is familiar with the negotiations.
Some moderate Democrats insist on making a deal – and others fear it would be a dead end burning precious time.
Republicans, who have released a smaller $ 568 billion package, say they question the White House’s willingness to limit a bill to narrower measures, such as roads and bridges, while cutting out pieces they oppose, such as grants for aged care. . Assistants to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also say they fear the other party is not negotiating in good faith.
If Democrats unite behind a proposal, they could use a budget process to pass legislation through the Senate without Republican backing, as they did with the $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package. But for the time being they lack consensus to walk that path. And with wafer-thin majorities in both chambers, they cannot have apostasy.
Biden spoke by phone Thursday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., who plays for her party on infrastructure. Both sounded cheerful later; Capito said it was a “constructive” discussion, and Biden described it as “good talk” and invited her to the White House.
“Let’s decide what they’re willing to consider in terms of what infrastructure is, how much of it, and then we can talk about how we can pay for it when we get to the point where we really have a real number,” Biden told reporters. after the call. “If it’s like last time – and I don’t, I think she means it – but if, like last time, they come in with a fourth or a fifth of what I’m asking and say, ‘That’s a final offer, ‘then it’s a no-go for me.’
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Sunday that Capito and several other Republicans would be invited to the White House this week.
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., A member of the finance committee, said he doubted Democrats would be willing to compromise – unless forced to.
“Do they have the votes? If they don’t have the votes, then they are serious about duality. If they have the votes, they are not serious about duality,” he said. “That’s my guess.”
Behind the scenes, Biden and senior officials have met with lawmakers. Efforts are expected to intensify this week, White House officials say. The White House has already held at least 415 phone calls or meetings with congressmen, congressional chiefs of staff and staff directors of both parties, an official said. They have completed at least two dozen staff-level briefings from the Senate and House Committee that were bipartisan or only Republican.
When it comes to dealing directly with members of Congress, Biden’s cabinet members responsible for helping pass the law called at least 62 Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and senior officials met 10 senators in both parties, the official said. Klain and Steve Ricchetti, the president’s adviser, recently met with moderate Democrats to build support, including the Blue Dog and Problem Solvers caucuses.
Biden will meet with the top Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate on May 12.
People familiar with the talks said Republicans will have a limited time to reach a deal and that May is a crucial month to gauge the outlook. A person close to the White House said officials are wary of endless negotiations that prove fruitless, an experience during the Obama administration that the White House does not want to repeat.
There is a sense of urgency among Biden and his allies, who feel they have limited time to pass legislation before members focus on the midterm elections in which Democrats could lose one or both chambers of Congress.
“I think this month we’re going to see if Republicans are really willing to work together on tough issues,” Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., Said in an interview.
Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia, one of the major voices, is one of the Democrats who are not ready to go it alone. He cited the recent 94-1 Senate vote on a bill to tackle hate crimes against Asian Americans as a model for cooperation.
“Give them a chance,” he said. “I was really happy with how that happened.”
But some prominent Democrats say they need to see results soon.
“It has to be a timely discussion. We can’t waste much time,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
When asked if Memorial Day could be a turning point, Durbin said, “I would hate to announce a deadline.”
The No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, Washington’s Patty Murray, echoed the sentiment late last week.
“If they say, ‘We’re not going to help you,’ then we’re going to have to walk the path of reconciliation,” Murray said. “But I think the country wants us to act.”
Senate Treasury Secretary Ron Wyden, D-Ore., A key player in the negotiations, said he will “ do whatever I can to find common ground, ” but was skeptical of “ the Republican claim that multinational corporations – the biggest of the big ones, where revenues have grown 40 percent in recent years, shouldn’t have to pay a cent for infrastructure. “
“It’s pretty hard to make it into something dual,” he said.
Biden, who has called for taxes to be raised on businesses and households earning more than $ 400,000, also rejected the GOP’s opposition to tax increases to help fund it. “That’s back to the old Republican position of $ 2 trillion tax cuts, debt and not paying,” he said. “I mean, it’s ironic how all this has changed.”
Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a member of the Republican leadership team, said she is “a little skeptical” about the White House’s reach after it chose to pass the Covid-19 aid bill without Republican votes.
“But he said it on national TV, and I hope he’s sincere about working with Republicans on infrastructure, because I really think we can get something done,” she said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., The chairman of the Committee on Budgets, which would oversee the budget reconciliation process, said his “ assumption is that Republicans are not serious about a major infrastructure bill that would include significant funding for infrastructure because climate change, for affordable housing and certainly also for human infrastructure. “
“Should we spend endless hours negotiating with Republicans? The answer is absolutely not. We’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “If Republicans take it seriously and want to tackle the major crises this country is facing, that’s great. If not, that’s fine. We’ll move on alone.”
The White House believes it is negotiating from a strong position and points to favorable polls: A. Research from Monmouth UniversityFor example, found that 68 percent of American adults supported the infrastructure plan, including 32 percent of Republicans, while 29 percent were against it.
“The president has always been clear that he believes we should be able to formulate policies that the Democrats and Republicans can agree on. And that’s what he’s going to try to do as president,” said Anita Dunn, senior adviser to the White House. . “But he’s also made it clear that he’s been chosen to perform for the American people. He’s going to try and work with the Republicans,” she said, and “is realistic about their views, and he understands their politics.”