WASHINGTON — A group of Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a public works proposal with a much smaller price tag and a narrower definition of infrastructure than what President Joe Biden has proposed, highlighting the stark differences between the two sides that will be difficult to bridge in coming months.
The price of the Republican proposal came in at $568 billion over five years, compared to the $2.3 trillion that Biden has called for spending over eight years.
To help pay for their plan, the Republicans would rely on user fees, including for electric vehicles, and on redirecting unspent federal money. The outline does not offer specifics, such as which federal programs would lose unspent money to infrastructure. Biden has proposed raising the corporate income tax from 21% to 28% to help pay for his plan, a move the Republican senators reject.
“This is the largest infrastructure investment that Republicans have come forward with,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told reporters. “This is a robust package.”
Republican lawmakers were quick to criticize the infrastructure proposal from Biden. They say just a fraction of the spending would go to traditional infrastructure.
Biden’s plan devotes $400 billion to expand Medicaid support for caregivers, and substantial portions would fund electric vehicle charging stations and address racial injustice of highways that were built in ways that devastated Black neighborhoods.
In a call with reporters on Wednesday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he wanted to focus on infrastructure in the traditional sense, saying the care-taking economy, manufacturing and other measures in Biden’s proposal could be done in other legislation.
Manchin has become a swing vote in the Senate and is active in efforts to reach bipartisan consensus on federal legislation, and he said Wednesday he is waiting to see more details from the president’s plan.
“If we can’t come together on infrastructure, God help us all,” Manchin said. “What I mean when I say that ... the infrastructure we know of — the water, the sewer, the roads, the bridges, the internet, basically, transportation, transit, railways, airports — everything we knew that needs to be built, that needs to have deferred maintenance taken care of.”
The Republican plan would dedicate $299 billion to roads and bridges, $65 billion to broadband internet and $61 billion to transit. Another big-ticket item: $44 billion for airports. Missing from the plan is Biden’s focus on electric vehicle charging stations and caregiver support. The senators delivered their blueprint to the White House about 30 minutes before holding a news conference on it.
“We take the part of the president’s plan that most Americans agree is real, hard infrastructure, we give it our touch, and we think we have a very good number here,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.
Earlier this year, Republicans also offered a counterproposal to Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan. Their price tag came in at about one-third of what the president wanted, and he quickly declared it inadequate. Democrats went forward on their own and passed the relief bill without the support of any GOP lawmaker.
Biden is spending more time this go-around listening to Republicans and voicing a willingness to consider their ideas, but the end result could be the same. Democrats are intent on passing a major infrastructure boost this year and could use the budget reconciliation process to bypass GOP opposition.
Capito said she is optimistic that compromise can be found this time.
“I’ve been reading this very closely,” she said. “I feel like the White House and other counterparts on the House side want to try to reach a consensus, hard infrastructure bill.”
After the announcement Thursday, Capito participated in a conference call with state and national reporters, during which she said she had discussed the plan with Manchin. She said she expected Manchin to study the GOP proposal during the weekend ahead of what she hopes will be serious negotiations about infrastructure next week.
“The way that I look at it is, everybody who comes to the table with an idea or a way to get this all the way across the finish line is welcome,” Capito said. “And he certainly would be.”