Republican Negotiator Balks On Idea Of Quick Infrastructure Agreement
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Republican Negotiator Says No To Idea Of Quick Infrastructure Package Agreement

Construction workers on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2021. The White House said it was "encouraged" by talks yesterday 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. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

Reuters – The U.S. Senate Republican leading her party’s efforts to hammer out an infrastructure agreement with President Joe Biden said she did not expect a deal to emerge on Tuesday as she waited to see when talks might resume.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, had been due to speak to Biden on Tuesday, according to White House officials, but told reporters by midday that she had not heard from him.

“I don’t think we’ll come to an agreement today, but I still believe that there’s a deal to be had here. And I think that’s why we’re both willing to keep talking,” said Capito, who is leading a six-member Senate Republican team in infrastructure talks with the administration.

The two parties remain far apart on one of Biden’s major domestic policy goals, disagreeing on how much to spend, how to pay for it and even what constitutes infrastructure.

Asked if there was a good chance for a deal, Capito replied: “I think there’s a chance. I wouldn’t say good.”

She rejected the idea that her next round of talks with Biden could be make-or-break for a bipartisan package. “This is going to be more of an ongoing conversation,” she said.

Another Republican on Capito’s negotiating team, Senator Roger Wicker, told reporters: “We need to keep talking.”

The White House is seeking a $1.7 trillion package that includes spending on roads, bridges, education and home healthcare, while Capito has offered a more modest $928 billion proposal that Biden has dismissed as too small.

“I’m working hard to find common ground with Republicans when it comes to the American Jobs Plan, but I refuse to raise taxes on Americans making under $400,000 a year to pay for it,” Biden said on Twitter on Tuesday. “It’s long past time the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.”

On Friday, the White House said Biden also plans to engage with senators from both parties about a “more substantial package,” signaling the administration was exploring options beyond the Capito discussions.

A bipartisan group of senators was continuing to meet on a possible alternative plan amounting to nearly $900 billion. One of those lawmakers, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, told reporters that his group’s plan could come to the foreground if talks between Capito and Biden failed.

“We’re nailing down exactly where we are,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney, another member of the bipartisan group, told reporters.

The clock is ticking. Later this week, Biden leaves on the first foreign trip of his presidency, to attend a G7 Summit in Cornwall, England.

Democrats are also keenly aware of the risk that they could lose their narrow majorities in either or both chambers of Congress in next year’s midterm elections, which would give Republicans the power to block most of Biden’s agenda.

(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)