White House Encouraged by Infrastructure Talks With Republicans

The White House said it was “encouraged” by talks Tuesday with Republican senators on a major new infrastructure package, even as lawmakers said the session yielded no agreement on an overall spending figure or on how to pay for it.

Administration participants in the Tuesday session, who included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo along with senior White House officials, “were encouraged by today’s discussion,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House plans to “follow up” with the Republican group later this week, according to the statement.

“I would say there is progress but we still have a ways to go,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who led the presentation of a Republican counteroffer to the administration in Tuesday’s discussions, said after the talks. “They are digesting what we proposed and will react to that.” In her own statement, the senator said she too was “encouraged” by the meeting.

The negotiations followed a session hosted by President Joe Biden last week. Republicans have said they could go bigger than the $568 billion, five-year plan they outlined in April, with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell suggesting as much as $800 billion. Biden’s $2.25 trillion “American Jobs Plan” is a much broader package that includes some social spending.

‘Meet Again’

The GOP has favored more traditional infrastructure items, though indicated it could support broadband internet funding along with some element for electric vehicles.

Tuesday’s session was positive, though there was no resolution on a topline number or how many years a bill might cover, GOP Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri said.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said, “We will meet again soon.”

While the talks did cover funding methods -- Biden has proposed corporate-tax hikes that Republicans have rejected -- there was no specific negotiation in the absence of an agreement on the spending figure, according to Capito.

Funding Question

“We really have to find out what we are going to pay for,” Capito said.

Blunt said discussion included having a way to tax those who drive electric vehicles, either a vehicle miles traveled tax or an annual fee, against the gasoline tax that’s in place today. The White House has so far opposed applying user fees to funding infrastructure, arguing that it hurts lower-income Americans.

Public-private partnerships were also discussed, and the administration seemed open to them, according to Blunt. A possible infrastructure bank was another point of the talks, he said.

National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, White House Counselor Steve Ricchetti and Director of Legislative Affairs Louisa Terrell were also in the Tuesday meeting. The GOP senators also included Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

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