How to read the Republican proposal
Capito and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, told CNN earlier in the week that the plan would be fully paid for by user fees and other offsets and wouldn’t raise taxes.
At a news conference unveiling the plan Thursday, Capito described the framework as “a real opportunity” to work across the aisle, pointing to past bipartisan work on the several committees involved in the plan.
“This is a serious attempt … a serious, robust, the most robust plan that we’ve put forward ever as Republicans,” said Capito, the ranking GOP member on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Aides familiar with this proposal point out it is meant to be an opening bid in a broader negotiation, not the final product. But $600 billion is far from the roughly $4 trillion proposal that the White House has floated and everyone acknowledges that significant concessions would have to be made on both sides to get anything that could pass in the middle.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN “New Day” Thursday that he will wait to see the details of the Senate Republicans’ proposal when asked whether a $600 billion proposal is a good place to start.
“I want to see more of the details. I’ve been on the phone with Democrats and Republicans in both houses just about every day, talking about the key areas where we have to work the red lines, where the negotiations might fall,” Buttigieg said.
Speaking of bipartisanship
Right now there are several piecemeal infrastructure bills making their way through Congress.
Some of them — like legislation to rebuild America’s water system — are bipartisan. The water bill is getting a vote as a test of bipartisanship and while it’s not clear how or if it would be passed as a standalone bill and signed by the President or passed out of the Senate and then included in the larger infrastructure package, it’s a good example of how Democrats are trying to show there is some bipartisan support out there for specific areas of infrastructure.
Expect the surface transportation bill, aka the “highway bill,” to be another potential test for bipartisanship.
If it feels confusing …
If it feels like negotiations surrounding infrastructure are amorphous right now, it’s because they are. We are in the talking stage — the ideas phase. If you are running a marathon, you are about on the third mile right now. There is a very long way to go and how this all shakes out is going to take time to play out. As one Democratic aide put it to CNN this week, “anyone who tells you they know how this all ends either is lying to you or deceiving themselves.”
All the things that have not been decided
- It’s still not clear if this would be one bill or two. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont and House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky would prefer one big bill, but that hasn’t been decided. “The only reason to do it in two bills would be cosmetic to say we have two $2 trillion bills instead of a $4 trillion bill,” Yarmuth said.
- How much does the bill cost? Biden’s proposals with the first part and second is expected to cost upwards of $4 trillion. That’s a lot of money, and it’s an amount that not all Democrats may be comfortable with even if they go it alone. The total price tag here isn’t a done deal.
- How much do you pay for? Again, many Democrats want a significant down payment on this bill and some, like Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden of Oregon, have laid out specific plans on how to pay for this. But others, like House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts, have not said how the bill should be paid for. That is because deciding how to pay for a proposal is hard. It makes enemies. It’s not clear how much of this bill will be paid for and what those mechanisms will be. The White House has suggested raising the corporate tax rate, that will likely be in the mix, but that only gets you so far.
- Do you include prescription drug reform? One idea that has been bounced around is including provisions to reform the cost of prescription drugs as a way to cover the costs of the bill. But adding more to the bill risks the delicate balance of Democratic votes needed to pass it.
- What is the deadline? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told her caucus that she hoped to get something voted out of the House by July 4. That’s ambitious. And, Yarmuth told CNN he did not think it was realistic. The House and Senate are still waiting, for example, for the President to send up his budget. And, many of them argue they shouldn’t start the process until they see that. The longer it takes to get started, however, the longer it could be until the House and Senate even have a bill.
The other risk factors
In June, the House is expected to move to pass their appropriations bills out of committee. That process can take months. Negotiations with Republicans over the spending package will get into full swing in the summer.
One thing aides warn is that if the infrastructure package devolves into a partisan effort, it could potentially affect the goodwill in the spending talks and bring those must-pass negotiations to the brink. In other words, Congress has time to pass infrastructure, but it gets harder the longer these talks drag out and the closer we get to the spending deadline at the end of September.
Why reconciliation isn’t easy either
Even if Democrats go-it-alone, the margins in the Senate are nonexistent. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has to hold his caucus together.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Thursday.