The new spending is aimed at further rehabilitating the economy, creating jobs and addressing inequities. But passing it is going to be a challenge.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN'S next major legislative push is shaping up to be another multitrillion-dollar package encompassing top domestic priorities like infrastructure, education and climate change that'll resurface thorny political issues that include tax hikes, hefty spending and the process used to shepherd it through a divided Congress.
Just a few weeks after Biden signed into law a nearly $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, the White House is already looking to its next big-ticket agenda item: about $3 trillion in new spending to further rehabilitate the economy, create jobs and address inequities. While the price tag and details are still fluid, the goal is clear: The president will attempt to make good on his campaign promises even if Republicans are turned off by certain provisions and the ways to pay for them.
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Early details of the package reflect the White House's multi-faceted approach to infrastructure, going beyond the typical focus on restoring and building bridges, highways and roads. The administration is also reportedly eyeing clean energy proposals like reducing carbon emissions as well as education programs like universal pre-kindergarten, tuition-free community college and expanded child care tax credits, according to The New York Times.
Because of the logistical hurdles of getting another massive bill through a Congress where Democrats hold narrow majorities in both the House and Senate, the White House may ultimately break it up into standalone measures, especially since the more traditional elements of the infrastructure plan share some bipartisan support.
And to pay for the proposed spending, the Biden White House is considering a series of tax increases for wealthy Americans and corporations – an idea rebuked by Republicans who passed tax cuts, including for high earners and large businesses, under the Trump administration. Some increases could include raising the corporate tax rate and taxes on investment income, according to The Washington Post. But Biden has said tax hikes will only be levied for families earning over $400,000 a year.
Democrats are leaving the door open to splitting Biden's jobs agenda into two bills and how exactly they'll get it through Congress. The big question is how Republicans may factor into negotiations and if at least 10 GOP senators would be willing to vote for it to give Democrats the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and advance legislation. But Republicans argue they're confronting the same issues that emerged for them during the passage of the COVID-19 bill: exorbitant spending on extraneous measures that have nothing to do with infrastructure.
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Democrats insist they want to work with Republicans and find common ground on infrastructure priorities, and Biden has already met with moderate GOP senators on the issue. But with the odds currently stacked against them to win the necessary support, the party is poised to again use the budget reconciliation process if needed so the package can clear the Senate with just a simple majority.
"The one thing we're united on – Speaker Pelosi, President Biden, myself – we want a big, bold, strong package," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said at a Tuesday press conference. "As we've always said, we'd prefer to work with Republicans to obtain that package. If we can't, we'll move forward in other ways, but there are various different options that we're exploring."
Biden will need to perform a difficult balancing act in trying to obtain bipartisan compromise on one of his biggest policy proposals. He campaigned on his decades of doing so while in the Senate and pledged to restore a sense of bipartisanship when taking office – a sentiment Republicans are driving home after being largely left out of passing additional COVID-19 aid.
But he also risks upsetting the base by not aggressively pursuing party priorities, especially after the elimination of the $15 minimum wage provision in the rescue package. Progressives are seeking to hold Biden accountable on the many promises he made during the 2020 campaign: raising taxes on the wealthy, combating climate change and addressing racial inequities.
"The strength of America's fabric is not just its roads and bridges, its broadband and ports and airports, although infrastructure investment is absolutely essential in those physical structures, but it's also our human capital," Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Tuesday. "This kind of investment is of the magnitude, the scope and scale that needs to be done."
Senate Republicans appear dismissive of the potential approach to separating the legislation and trying to pass the more palatable parts of infrastructure through regular order with GOP support, while advancing the other components on party-line votes through the budget reconciliation.
"It's a pretty cynical ploy to try and appeal to Republicans to vote for all that stuff and then do reconciliation to do all the other hard stuff. I think if they want to sit down with Republicans – which they should – the Republicans would work with them on an infrastructure package," Senate Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota told reporters on Capitol Hill.
"But if they decide to do that as a ploy to lure Republicans in to vote for the easy stuff and then do all of the controversial stuff through reconciliation, I don't think our guys will take the bait on that," he added.
After Democrats' go-it-alone strategy to pass the COVID-19 relief bill, Republicans want to be included in crafting an infrastructure proposal, though bitterness lingers from the past few months.
But the Biden White House and Congress may find themselves in the same predicament if both sides are unwilling to budge. Republicans say they're alarmed by the high levels of spending on the part of the new administration and provisions that they argue are unrelated to infrastructure.
"I hope we have input on defining infrastructure first. And secondly, I hope we have a frank discussion about how we're going to pay for it. The Biden administration is spending money like a sailor on shore leave," GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said Tuesday. "And at the rate they're spending, they just spent $2 trillion. ... It's breathtaking."
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia told reporters on Capitol Hill she hopes Republicans can continue talks with the White House but noted that the initial draft of the plan is "going way beyond the scope of what I thought an infrastructure package would be creating jobs."
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat and key vote in a 50-50 Senate, has previously said he'll push for Republicans to have a role this time around and dismissed once again using budget reconciliation to circumvent the need for GOP support. But other Democrats acknowledge that the political reality may leave them with no choice.
"I'm still hoping, maybe naively, that it can be done in a bipartisan way," Blumenthal said. "But it must be done, if necessary, through budget reconciliation."
Lisa Hagen, Reporter
Lisa Hagen is a politics reporter for U.S. News & World Report covering Congress, the 2020 ... READ MORE
Tags: infrastructure, legislation, Joe Biden, Congress
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