Decision Time for Biden on Infrastructure Deal: GOP Senator

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A senior Republican senator said a $579 billion bipartisan accord on infrastructure is on the table and he challenged President Joe Biden to decide whether he wants to pursue it.

South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, who’s in a group of 21 senators who last week signed onto a proposed framework to present to Biden, is among lawmakers seeking to set the stage for the next round of bargaining. Biden has said he’ll review the bipartisan proposal on Monday.

“I would just say this: President Biden, if you want an infrastructure deal with a trillion dollars it’s there for the taking -- you just need to get involved,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.”

With the Senate and House nearing extended July 4 recesses, talks are down to the wire for a compromise authorizing a big boost for roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure, even as Senate Democrats pursue a second track for a Democrat-only bill entailing vast expansions of social spending Biden has put forth.

How to pay for the infrastructure spending is the most problematic, immediate issue dividing the two parties as well as Democrats’ moderate and progressive wings.

The White House on Friday reiterated Biden’s opposition to indexing the 18.4-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax to inflation to help pay for an infrastructure plan. The White House also hasn’t embraced other ideas on the table, including a fee on electric vehicles and redirecting unspent Covid-19 relief funds, but has indicated stricter tax collection enforcement could reap revenues to help close the gap.

Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent and leading progressive, said Sunday said he couldn’t commit to the bipartisan plan.

While it’s “mostly good” because infrastructure spending is critically needed, he has concern about gas tax indexing and an “infrastructure bank” favored by Republicans to harness private investment, Sanders said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“One of the concerns that I do have about the bipartisan bill is how they are going to pay for their proposals, and they’re not clear yet,” Sanders said. “I don’t know that they even know yet, but some of the speculation is raising a gas tax, which I don’t support, a fee on electric vehicles, privatization of infrastructure. Those are proposals that I would not support.”

The bipartisan group on infrastructure is proposing $1.2 trillion over eight years, including $579 billion in new spending. It’s a counteroffer to the $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan Biden initially proposed, a proposal that relies on corporate tax increases to pay for it.

‘Sticking Point’

Sanders, who is mapping plans for a second so-called “reconciliation” package that could short-circuit any GOP filibuster, said he is working on a fiscal blueprint that could pave the way for as much as $6 trillion, though he’s open to changing that level in a Senate divided 50-50 between the two parties.

Democrats can’t afford to lose a single vote if they want to pass legislation providing a big jump in spending for climate change, child care, expanded Medicare and other party priorities.

“That’s something we’re going to have to hammer out and I’m going to do it,” Sanders said on CNN.

Graham cautioned that Biden can’t count on any Republicans to support either a budget plan or a reconciliation package that is anywhere near $6 trillion.

“That will be a very big sticking point,” he said. If Biden goes down that path, he’ll get “a lot of pushback” from all Republicans, Graham said.

Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the leading GOP negotiator on the infrastructure package, reiterated his side’s opposition to tax increases.

“It’s important that we have pay-fors, but that we not raise taxes,” he said on NBC.

Portman said the 11 Republicans in the talks are likely to stick with their commitment, as long as final details are completed to their satisfaction, even if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other party leaders decide to oppose the package.

“I think we’re absolutely committed, and there are a number of others on both sides of the aisle,” Portman said.

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