A group of Senate Republicans unveiled the outline of a $928 billion infrastructure proposal Thursday, a counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion plan.
As expected, the one-page outline focuses on what lead Republican negotiator Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia called “core physical infrastructure” and leaves out many of the more expansive provisions included in the Biden plan, such as community-based elder care and investments in green energy – elements that GOP negotiator Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming called “socialism camouflaged as infrastructure.”
The basic infrastructure provision called out in the “Republican Roadmap” include $91 billion for roads and bridges, $48 billion for water infrastructure, $25 billion for airports, $65 billion for broadband, $22 billion for freight and passenger rail and $6 billion for water storage in the West.
Also as expected, the topline number includes billions of dollars in baseline funding, which has already been budgeted. The total increase in spending above the baseline comes to about $257 billion over eight years, according to The New York Times, leaving a roughly $1.4 trillion gap between the Democratic and Republican proposals with respect to new spending.
As far as paying for the plan, the GOP senators made it clear that they had no interest in reversing any of the 2017 tax cuts, as Biden has proposed, and would rely instead on “a combination of repurposed funding from previous COVID relief packages, user fees, and infrastructure financing.”
White House is concerned: Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the increase in the size of the GOP proposal was “encouraging” and that the president welcomed new provisions related to roads, bridges and rail. But overall, Psaki’s comments Thursday took on a more critical tone.
“[W]e 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,” she said.
Though details were few, the way Republicans propose to pay for their plan also drew criticism. “[W]e 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,” Psaki said.
Critics outside the White House were more direct in expressing their disapproval. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) referred to it as a “non-starter,” while Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said it was “not particularly genuine.”
Political scientist Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute offered a more colorful assessment: “It is a sham, just like the ‘counteroffer’ on the rescue plan. Kabuki theater, designed to get journalists to portray them as serious negotiators,” he tweeted.
Defending their proposal, Republicans argued that it falls within the parameters set by the White House. “We believe this counteroffer delivers on what President Biden told us in the Oval Office that day and that is to try to reach somewhere near $1 trillion over an eight-year period that would include our baseline spending,” Capito said. “We have achieved that goal with this counteroffer.”
And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) spoke in favor of reusing funds that were intended to bolster the response to the pandemic. “There's a lot of Covid-specific money,” he said. “Better to use that money for something that we all want to do than have it sit around there for somebody else's pet project at some time in the future.”
What comes next: Biden said he plans to meet with Capito next week to discuss the proposal but warned that time is running short. “We’re going to have to close this down soon,” Biden told reporters as he headed to Ohio to give a talk on the state of the economy.