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Key GOP senator says there was progress during Biden meeting 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.

There were signs of progress, too, according to one of the Republican senators who attended.

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.

Following the meeting, Moore Capito said the two sides had made genuine progress. She said Biden had asked the Republicans to rework an earlier counteroffer they made to his American Jobs Plan, and bring it back to him so he could make his own counteroffer.

“We had a very productive [meeting], more than courteous give and take,” she said. “We did talk specifics, and the president has asked us to come back and rework an offer so that he can then react to that and then reoffer to us. We’re very encouraged, we feel very committed to the bipartisanship that we think this infrastructure package can carry forward.”

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.

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. Republicans have seized on Biden’s expansive definition of “infrastructure” to oppose much of his proposal.

Democrats and Republicans also remain 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, or at least making significant progress on a deal.

Thursday’s meeting was the most positive step so far towards achieving Biden’s goal of crafting a bipartisan infrastructure package.

“The attitude that the president had in the Oval Office with us was very supportive, very much desirous of striking a deal. And I think we were all reflective of that, as well,” said Moore Capito.

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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