President Joe Biden
will meet with Senator Shelley Moore Capito
(R-W.Va.) on Wednesday, as time runs out for Democrats
to reach an agreement on infrastructure
The meeting, the first one-on-one between Biden and a lead Republican negotiator on infrastructure, comes at a critical juncture. If anyone in either party appears to genuinely want to make a deal
, it’s Biden and Capito. But after more than a month of negotiations, the two sides remain far apart on the size of an infrastructure package, and perhaps more importantly, how to pay for it.
Officials in the Biden administration
have suggested that if an agreement cannot be reached soon, Democrats will try to pass their own infrastructure package in the Senate
with a simple majority using a budget process known as reconciliation.
“I believe we are approaching a fish-or-cut-bait moment,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
said on Sunday, adding, “We believe in this process, but we also believe it cannot continue indefinitely.”
The differences in infrastructure spending between the two parties are significant. Biden has proposed spending $1.7 trillion, down from an initial $2.2 trillion request, to renew the nation's roads, bridges, and waterways, as well as make critical investments in electric vehicles and elder care. Republicans have proposed spending about $900 billion, their most recent and comprehensive proposal, on traditional infrastructure.
The biggest disagreement may be over how to finance the massive project. Democrats want to raise corporate tax rates, while Republicans want to raise user fees on things like electric vehicles and repurpose billions in unspent aid Congress
already appropriated for coronavirus
relief in the American Rescue Plan
. Neither side has budge on its proposed “pay-for,” leaving a wide chasm to bridge.
Last week, the nation's mayors and county leaders wrote to congressional leadership, urging them not to use federal coronavirus aid to fund other activities such as infrastructure, noting that the funds would go to support vaccine
and rental assistance, and social safety-net services.
“Despite the obvious and critical need for these dollars, recent Congressional proposals to clawback these funds have been made, and we oppose these proposals, both in general and as a pay-for for infrastructure,” the local leaders wrote in their letter.
have been skeptical of Biden's negotiations with Republican senators, urging him to move on and focus on passing all of their priorities in one large package, but Democrats face additional risks if they go it alone with reconciliation, as they did when they passed the American Rescue Plan in March.
Ditching bipartisan talks too soon could enrage Democratic
moderates like West Virginia
's Joe Manchin
's Kyrsten Sinema
, who have expressed a willingness to make a good-faith effort to reach an agreement with the GOP
. With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats need all members on board to pass their agenda.
Unlike with coronavirus aid, where Democrats agreed on the need for things like stimulus checks
and unemployment insurance
, Democrats are more divided on infrastructure and how to pay for it. Democratic lawmakers from more affluent states
like New York
, New Jersey
, and California
are jockeying over a key provision in President Barack Obama
Meanwhile, progressives have a slew of demands for this package, including provisions for elder care, child care, affordable housing, and climate change
“I think we need a bold solution that does both the hard infrastructure of roads, bridges, high-speed rail, rural internet, but also the softer infrastructure, the human infrastructure of paid family leave, affordable day care, ensuring our kids are back in school, so that all parents can get back to work
,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) told CNN