(Bloomberg) -- Republican senators say they’re encouraged about the prospects for a deal with President Joe Biden on his $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal after an Oval Office meeting to negotiate over significant areas of disagreement.© Bloomberg Construction Of Corpus Christi Harbor Bridge As Biden Releases Infrastructure Plan
Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, one of a half dozen senators who attended the talks, called the Thursday discussion “very productive” and said “we’re very encouraged.”
“We think this infrastructure package can carry forward,” she said. “The president has asked us to come back and re-work an offer so that he can then react to that, and then re-offer to us.”
While there’s broad GOP opposition to the scope of Biden’s plan and the tax increases he’s proposed to finance it, the senators said they also see a possible middle ground.
“We’re getting somewhere,” said Roger Wicker of Mississippi, after the meeting. Earlier, he tweeted: “Today Republicans will learn whether @POTUS is serious about reaching a deal on infrastructure.”
After the meeting, Biden expressed hope. “We had a very, very good meeting,” he told reporters in the Rose Garden. “It was great to be back with so many of the colleagues that I had served with in the Senate. And I am very optimistic that we can reach a reasonable agreement. But even if we don’t, it’s been a good faith effort that we started.”
”We didn’t compromise on anything,” he added. “What we did was, I laid out what I thought we should be doing, how it should be paid for. And my colleagues in the Senate came back and said, they’ll come back to me with a counteroffer of what they are prepared to do.”
Roy Blunt of Missouri, another Republican participant, said both sides are willing to compromise on the size of a package.
“I certainly left there thinking there is a workable agreement to be had if we all stretch,” he said, adding: “We are not fixed on a number.”
Blunt earlier said the two key issues are how to define infrastructure -- after Biden’s plan incorporated elderly care and other social spending the GOP opposes -- and excluding any move to roll back the 2017 Republican tax cuts to help pay for the package. He added that if a bipartisan infrastructure deal is agreed upon, there is no GOP demand that Biden hold back from trying to win passage of his more expansive child care and other economic proposals with only Democratic support.
Blunt, along with the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Mike Crapo of Idaho, both indicated support for tougher Internal Revenue Service enforcement as one way to bolster revenue and help fund infrastructure spending.
Crapo said he was “very willing” to consider such an effort, though questioned whether it could raise as much money as the $700 billion over 10 years that the White House has suggested. Crapo has formally asked the IRS to explain the estimate.
After speaking with Biden, Crapo said: “I leave this meeting with solid optimism.”
The two sides are also working to be sure that they are making apples-to-apples comparisons, such as whether they are talking about five years or eight years of spending or whether offers include previously scheduled maintenance
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday after a separate session with Biden and top congressional leaders that his party would release as soon as next week an infrastructure proposal of less than $800 billion. Biden has pitched the more expansive $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan.
While the White House wants to raise corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he told Biden Wednesday that a “red line” for the GOP is rolling back any of the 2017 tax cuts -- which included a sharp reduction in the levy on companies.
At stake for the administration is showcasing to moderate Democrats that an effort is being made to do a bipartisan deal -- as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has specifically called for.
Thursday afternoon’s meeting included Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with Wicker, Blunt, Crapo, Capito and fellow Republicans John Barrasso and Pat Toomey.
The Wednesday gathering with McConnell, McCarthy, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, ended with mixed signals.
Both sides are showing an openness to some kind of infrastructure package, but remain deeply divided over the scope. McCarthy said it should include only roads, bridges, highways, airports and broadband.
While Republicans oppose tax hikes, Biden has ruled out user fees, which Republicans have suggested, with the president saying that would put the burden on the poor, working-class and middle-class.
There are increasing signs the bill would be split up if a bipartisan agreement on some infrastructure measures did emerge. That would leave Biden to try to advance some or all of the rest of his proposal without Republican support. The president himself suggested Wednesday he was open to splitting the legislation.
“I want to make it clear -- I want to get a bipartisan deal on as much as we can get a bipartisan deal on. And that means roads, bridges, broadband, all infrastructure,” Biden told MSNBC in an interview broadcast Wednesday night. But he said he wouldn’t give up on other measures and may try to pass those separately with only Democratic votes.
“What can we agree on? And let’s see if we can get an agreement to kick-start this. And then fight over what’s left, and see if I can get it done without Republicans, if need be,” Biden said.
Biden’s meetings this week are a hopeful sign that something can be done on a bipartisan basis, said Ed Mortimer, the vice president of transportation and infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He called on Congress to pass a joint infrastructure bill as well as a five-year re-authorization of the surface transportation bill.
“There does seem to be a growing consensus that to get a bipartisan solution means focusing on the physical infrastructure stuff,” Mortimer said. “This is as close as I’ve seen us be on the verge of potentially getting something done.”
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