Biden is in search of a brand new coalition for an infrastructure regulation as talks with key GOP senators fail
WASHINGTON – Negotiations between the White House and a small group of Republican senators over a bipartisan infrastructure bill fell through on Tuesday amid deep disagreements over what constitutes infrastructure and how much money should be allocated to it.
West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, the leading Republican negotiator, said President Joe Biden spoke to her on the phone Tuesday and ended the talks.
"I spoke to the president this afternoon and he ended our infrastructure negotiations," said Moore Capito in a statement.
"During our negotiations, we were respectfully, fully, and very openly engaged to each other and made several serious counter-offers, each of which represented the Republicans' largest infrastructure investment," she said.
Tuesday's announcement marked the end of more than a month of intense negotiations between Republican senators, the president, and their respective staff.
With no big bargains in sight, Biden reached out Tuesday to three senators who are part of a bipartisan group quietly working on a backup infrastructure plan.
The other non-partisan infrastructure talks
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La., Tweeted that Biden called him Tuesday and "brought up flood resistance and energy precautions" that would strengthen his state.
"Support [Capitos] strongly. Any infrastructure package should and must be bipartisan," he wrote.
Biden also named two centrist Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona and Joe Manchin from West Virginia.
The president "urged them to continue their work with fellow Democrats and Republicans to come up with a bipartisan proposal that he hopes will better address the country's urgent infrastructure needs," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki , in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Biden is due to leave for Europe on Wednesday, but Psaki said he has appointed key cabinet members and White House staff to meet with senators during his trip.
Other Senators working on the alternative plan are Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio and Mitt Romney, R-Utah. The legislature drafting the proposal should meet on Tuesday afternoon.
The group aims to recruit up to 20 center senators to their plan once it is completed.
While it's unclear what this final plan would entail, it could reportedly cost nearly $ 900 billion. The price would be roughly half of Biden's last $ 1.7 trillion offer to the GOP.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Said Tuesday that the bipartisan group of senators is "trying to put together something closer to what the president needs" than Capito's offer.
While Capito Biden last sent an offer totaling nearly $ 1 trillion, only a fraction of that was actual new spend and the rest was money that was being reused by other federal agencies.
But the leaders of Congress have not yet put their weight behind the larger group of senatorial talks. And it's unclear whether Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell would even support a major infrastructure bill.
On the democratic side, Manchin will play an overwhelming role in any bill that is passed by the Chamber in which the Democrats only have a majority of votes.
So far, Manchin has insisted that all infrastructure laws are bipartisan. His stance could force his party to adopt a smaller, bipartisan infrastructure package this summer and then wait until later in the year to address other priorities like caring for loved ones and clean energy projects.
Biden is also in contact with Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who spoke to the president on Friday.
DeFazio's committee will draft a massive re-approval bill on Wednesday to fund land transport and highways for the next five years. The road legislation, seen as a "must-pass" expense bill, could be written to include several planks of Biden's signature infrastructure plan.
However, Biden does not want to allow haggling over a bipartisan infrastructure bill to stand in the way of another effort carried out only by Democrats.
The path of reconciliation
In addition to his talks with center senators, the president also spoke to Schumer and House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California, on Tuesday, Psaki said.
In each of those calls, Biden said, Biden effectively gave the two Democratic leaders the green light to push stand-alone infrastructure legislation that the Senate could pass by simple majority, a process known as budget reconciliation.
These efforts require that both the House and Senate agree on a budget resolution with specific provisions that must be finalized by the committees once the resolution is adopted. Once the committees are done, the final package of all taxes and expenses will be wrapped up in one giant bill that will make up for the differences.
This bill only requires a simple majority in each chamber to bypass the 60 votes required to defeat a Senate filibuster.
On Tuesday, Biden directed both Schumer and Pelosi to "begin work on the budget dissolution process so that laws promoting the president's economic priorities and tax reform plans can move into the Senate in July," Psaki said.
"The president is determined to get his economic legislation through Congress this summer and has several avenues to do to achieve that," she added.
Clarification: The Democrats have a majority in the Senate because Vice President Kamala Harris casts a tie. An earlier version of this story referred to the democratic majority as a "single-seat" majority.
Correction: This article has been updated to indicate that President Joe Biden spoke with the three senators from the bipartisan group and with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday. The statement by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was released on Tuesday afternoon.