WASHINGTON – While President Joe Biden has doubled the demand for Republican cooperation for an infrastructure package, some Democratic allies say he must be prepared to do it alone if the deal does not materialize quickly.
The White House wants to meet bids for Biden’s $ 2.25 trillion infrastructure plan by the middle of this month, and if no progress is made by Remembrance Day, officials will reevaluate their strategy of trying to build bipartisan support, a source familiar with the matter said. with Negotiations.
Some moderate Democrats are pushing for a deal – while others worry it will be a dead end that will burn valuable time.
Republicans, who have released a thinner $ 568 billion package, say they wonder if the White House is willing to limit the bill to tighter measures, such as roads and bridges, while cutting pieces it opposes, such as subsidies. for adult care. Aides to members of Congress on both sides of the aisle also say they fear the other side may not negotiate in good faith.
If Democrats unite behind the proposal, they could use the budget process to pass legislation through the Senate without Republican support, as they did with the $ 1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package. But for now, they lack a consensus to go this route. And with razor-thin majorities in both chambers, they can’t have defects.
Biden spoke by telephone on Thursday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., who plays the role of his infrastructure party. Both later sounded optimistic; Capito said it was a “constructive” discussion, and Biden described it as a “good conversation” and invited her to the White House.
“Let’s decide what they are willing to take into account in terms of what the infrastructure is, what part of it, and then we can talk about how to pay for it if we get to the point that we actually have a real number,” Biden told reporters. after the call. “If it’s like last time – and I don’t, I think it’s serious – but if, like last time, they come in with a quarter or a fifth of what I’m asking and say, ‘This is the last offer, then it’s ban for me. “
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klein said 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.
“Do they have the votes? If they don’t have the votes, they are serious about bilateralism. If they have the votes, they are not serious about bilateralism,” he said. “That’s my presumption.”
Behind the scenes, Biden and senior administration officials are meeting with lawmakers. Efforts are expected to increase this week, White House officials said. The White House has already made at least 415 phone calls or meetings with members of Congress, congressional cabinet chiefs and staff directors from both parties, an official said. They have completed at least two dozen briefings at the level of Senate and Chamber officials, which were bipartisan or only Republican.
In terms of direct communication with members of Congress, members of Biden’s cabinet responsible for supporting the passage of the bill called in at least 62 Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and senior administration officials met with 10 senators and from both parties, the official said. Klein and Steve Ricketti, the president’s adviser, recently met with moderate Democrats to build support, including blue dog representations and problem-solving.
Biden will meet with senior Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate on May 12.
Those familiar with the talks said Republicans would have a limited window to reach a deal and that May may be a crucial month to measure prospects. A man close to the White House said officials were wary of being involved in endless negotiations that proved fruitless, an experience during the Obama administration that the White House was determined not to repeat.
There is a sense of urgency among Biden and his allies, who believe they have a limited window to pass any legislation before members begin to focus on by-elections, in which Democrats could lose one or both houses of Congress.
“I think this month we’ll see if Republicans are actually willing to work together on difficult issues,” Sen. Chris Koons, D-Del, said in an interview.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a key voter, is among Democrats who are not ready to do it alone. As a model for cooperation, he cites the recent Senate vote of 94-1 on a bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans.
“Give them a chance,” he said. “I was very pleased with how it happened.”
But some top Democrats say they should see results soon.
“This should be a timely discussion. We can’t waste much time,” said a Senate majority, whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Asked if Remembrance Day could be a highlight, Durbin said: “I wouldn’t want to announce the deadline.”
Senate Democrat No. 3 Patty Murray of Washington echoed the mood late last week.
“If they say, ‘We’re not going to help you,’ then we’re going to have to take the path of reconciliation,” Murray said. “But I think the country wants us to act.”
Finance Senate President Ron Wyden, D-Ore., A key negotiator, said he would “do his best to try to find a common language”, but expressed skepticism about “the Republican claim that multinational corporations are the most the biggest of the big ones, where revenues have increased by 40 percent in recent years – you don’t have to pay a penny for infrastructure. “
“It’s quite difficult to make something bipartisan out of this,” he said.
Biden, who called for higher taxes on corporations and households earning more than $ 400,000, also rejected the Republican opposition against the tax increase to fund it. “This goes back to the old Republican position of cutting $ 2 trillion in taxes, debt and non-payment,” he said. “I mean, it’s ironic how everything has changed.”
Iowa Sen. Johnny Ernst, a member of the Republican leadership team, said she was “a little skeptical” about the scope of the White House after he decided to pass the Covid-19 relief bill without Republican votes.
“But he said it on national television, and I hope he’s honest about working with the Republicans on infrastructure, because I really think we can do something,” she said.
Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chairman of the budget committee that will oversee the budget reconciliation process, said “the assumption is that Republicans are not serious about a major infrastructure bill that will include significant infrastructure funding for the amendment climate change, for affordable housing and certainly for human infrastructure. “
“Should we spend an infinite amount of time negotiating with Republicans? The answer is absolutely no. We’ve seen this movie before,” he said. “If Republicans are serious and want to deal with the big crises this country is facing, that’s great. If not, that’s fine. We’re moving forward on our own.”
The White House believes it is negotiating from a strong position, pointing to favorable polls: A study by the University of Monmouth, for example, found that 68 percent of adults in the United States support the infrastructure plan, including 32 percent of Republicans, while 29 percent oppose it.
“The president has always been clear that he believes we need to be able to work out policies that Democrats and Republicans can agree on. And that’s what he’s going to try to do as president,” said senior White House adviser Anita. Dunn. “But it was also clear that he was elected to fulfill his responsibilities to the American people. He will try to work with the Republicans,” she said, and “he is realistic about their views and understands their policies.”