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Biden meets with 6 key GOP senators as he seeks common ground on infrastructure

President Joe Biden(C) and Vice President Kamala Harris(L) meet with Republican Senator from West Virginia Shelley Moore Capito (R) and Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho (frontL) to discuss an infrastructure bill in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2021.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden met Thursday with a group of senior Republican senators to discuss the prospects of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Biden has made one of his top domestic priorities during his first year in office.

The senators attending the Oval Office meeting all serve as ranking members on committees with jurisdiction over infrastructure: Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey and Roger Wicker, Mississippi’s senior senator.

“We’ll see if we can work out a compromise on infrastructure,” Biden said at the top of the meeting. “And I know they’re sincere about it, and so am I. So what we’re going to try to do is figure out … what constitutes infrastructure … how much we want to fund it above the baseline, the baseline meaning what we spent last year, and then talk about how to proceed from there.”

“It’s a genuine effort, and I think we get there,” he added.

There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic that Biden can reach an agreement with Republicans on some infrastructure proposals, especially if he agrees to split the massive $1.8 trillion American Jobs Plan package into two or more separate bills.

But there remain major disagreements over core elements of an infrastructure bill, including what “infrastructure” should mean.

Biden’s proposal features hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for traditional infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridge repair.

But it also includes billions more in spending to expand the electrical grid, bolster care for elderly and disabled Americans, invest in affordable housing and expand broadband access.

“Today Republicans will learn whether [Biden] is serious about reaching a deal on infrastructure,” Wicker tweeted Thursday morning. “Our conference has a good faith offer on the table. We are ready to work with the President and our Democratic colleagues.”

Republicans have seized on Biden’s expansive definition of “infrastructure” to oppose much of his proposal. In April, Republican senators released the framework of a counteroffer infrastructure bill that would cost about a quarter of what Biden is proposing.

Democrats and Republicans also remained far apart on how to pay for the much-needed infrastructure investments.

Democrats have so far rejected a Republican proposal to fund the plan through user fees, with White House officials saying this amounts to a tax hike on middle-class Americans who drive.

Instead, Democrats propose raising the corporate tax rate and closing loopholes that would effectively mean corporations and the very richest Americans pay for the plan.

Republicans say any changes to the low tax rates enacted in their 2017 tax-cut bill are a nonstarter.

Biden has set an unofficial deadline of Memorial Day for reaching a deal with Republicans.

If Biden fails to reach a bipartisan compromise on the plan, he and congressional Democrats have said they will use budget reconciliation to pass an infrastructure package on a purely party-line vote, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

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