Countering Biden, Senate Republicans Unveil Smaller $568 Billion Infrastructure Plan

Apr 22, 2021
Originally published on April 23, 2021 10:23 pm

Updated April 22, 2021 at 2:05 PM ET

Senate Republicans have released a $568 billion infrastructure proposal to counter the more than $2 trillion package unveiled by President Biden early this month.

The five-year GOP proposal is unlikely to gain much, if any, support from Democrats, but the outline serves as a benchmark for any future negotiations on a bipartisan bill. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told reporters in the Capitol that she and the top Republicans on the committees that oversee infrastructure policies shared the information with the White House and have been in touch with Biden about their proposal.

Capito, who is leading the GOP infrastructure push, said the goal is for congressional committees to lead the process.

"The biggest message we want to put forward today is that this is important to us," Capito said. "We agree that these bills are necessary and that the committees of jurisdiction forge the compromise."

Republicans have balked at Biden's wide-ranging interpretation of what is considered infrastructure -- his proposal includes funding for community care and affordable housing, for example.

In their plan, GOP senators specifically list roads and bridges, public transit systems, rail, drinking water & wastewater infrastructure, ports & inland waterways, airports, safety, broadband infrastructure and water storage.

The framework calls for:

  • $299 billion for roads and bridges
  • $61 billion for public transit,
  • $20 billion for rail
  • $35 billion for drinking water and wastewater
  • $13 billion for safety
  • $17 billion for ports and waterways
  • $44 billion for airports
  • $65 billion for broadband
  • $14 billion for water storage

Under Biden's plan, the transportation section alone is $53 billion more than the entire GOP plan.

Republicans emphasized that any funding should be partnered with spending from state and local governments and should encourage private-sector investments and financing.

Another major departure from Biden is the section on paying for the bill. Republicans call for funding offsets to cover the cost of the programs with an emphasis on repurposing existing funds that Congress has already approved. Republicans also rejected any corporate or international tax increases and any attempts to undo the 2017 tax cuts passed under President Trump.

Biden has proposed paying for his plan primarily by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.

Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told reporters in the Capitol the GOP bill is a starting point and he plans to sit down with a bipartisan group to start talking.

Other Democrats, like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., were more critical.

"It goes nowhere near what has to be done to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and the funding is totally regressive and anti-working class at a time of massive income and wealth inequality," Sanders said. "We've got to ask the wealthy and large corporations to pay their fair share not demand more taxes on the middle class and working families."

Some Democrats, including Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., have suggested that Congress should look for areas of agreement and attempt to break up the legislation to pass some parts with bipartisan support. Coons, who is close with Biden, suggested passing other elements through budget reconciliation — which requires 51 votes rather than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

"We are trying to get $2 trillion worth of infrastructure and jobs investments," Coons said on CNN last week. "Why wouldn't you do $800 billion of it in a bipartisan way? And then do the other $1.2 trillion, Dems-only, through reconciliation?"

Biden has not directly addressed that possibility.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How much will it cost to fix this country's infrastructure? Senate Republicans offered a much lower price tag than Democrats yesterday by outlining a proposal with a much narrower scope. President Biden, as you may have heard, proposes to spend almost $2.3 trillion over time on everything from roads to renewable energy to people, while the Republican proposal put out yesterday would be a quarter of that size. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is tracking the story. Kelsey, good morning.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do Republicans want to spend on?

SNELL: Well, they're talking about traditional infrastructure. They use that term over and over. So the idea is roads, bridges, Internet and a few other things. Shelley Moore Capito is leading this effort. The senator from West Virginia explained very clearly, though, that Republicans view this as a starting point.

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SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: Our focus today is to say what our concepts are, as Republicans, as what infrastructure means, what our principles are in terms of pay force and then say to President Biden and his team and our Democrat colleagues, we're ready to sit down and get to work on this.

SNELL: The starting point, though, is a bulk of the money is going to - $299 billion, I should say - for roads and bridges. Other areas include public transit, rail, waste and drinking water, airports and broadband.

INSKEEP: OK, so that's interesting because some Republicans had made remarks suggesting that broadband wasn't infrastructure or that water pipes weren't infrastructure. So now they're admitting again that they are but still a narrower focus than on the Democratic side. How do Republicans propose to pay for their plan?

SNELL: You know, the answer to that question is not totally clear right now. You know, they talked about redirecting money Congress has already agreed to spend through appropriations or even some additional money that's been, you know, put out for COVID that didn't get spent. And they also talked about other options like fees, but they really haven't narrowed it down. What I do think is notable is what they talk about when they say what shouldn't be used. They say no corporate or international tax hikes and no changes to the 2017 tax cuts. So they're basically ruling out all of the ways Democrats want to pay for their infrastructure plan.

INSKEEP: Oh, interesting. And they're also saying there has to be some way to pay for the infrastructure plan. They don't want to borrow too much money along the way. All of this, though, is cast as a starting point for negotiations. They want to have a genuine bipartisan negotiation. So how do Democrats respond?

SNELL: You know, the reactions kind of range. There were some people who took a wait-and-see approach, people like Joe Manchin of West Virginia. We hear his name a lot because he's very important to, you know, Democrats bringing together the unanimity that they require to pass a lot of things. And then Bernie Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, called it totally inadequate. So it's not a super warm start, but it's not completely closed down. One senator said they had to actually start by defining infrastructure, as you said, which is kind of a hard starting point for a negotiation if you don't agree on what you're even discussing. So the anticipation is this is going to be a slow road. And that could mean that there is hope for an idea that they could break down infrastructure into the easy bipartisan parts that they can, you know, pass with Democrats and Republicans and the not-so-easy parts the Democrats could try to pass on their own using budget reconciliation.

INSKEEP: You know, I hate to ask, Kelsey, but isn't it kind of normal for lawmakers to cram seemingly unrelated things into the same bill? Wouldn't it practically be revolutionary to only have a bill on one thing?

SNELL: Yeah, that's true. And, you know, they really are talking about empowering committees right now and letting those people with expertise and, you know, negotiating relationships do all of that heavy lifting. But all of that takes a really long time. This is the common way that Congress writes bills, but it includes legislative staff and legal staff and budget scorekeepers. All of that takes time. And, you know, this is just kind of how things usually go. People may remember that there were real significant and lengthy efforts to get a bipartisan deal on the Affordable Care Act. That ultimately failed, but they spent months trying, and it's possible that that could happen here as well.

INSKEEP: So that's part of what's happening is an effort to return to the traditional lawmaking process.

SNELL: That's right.

INSKEEP: Kelsey, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.