By Andrew Restuccia and Andrew Duehren
WASHINGTON -- President Biden faces a crucial test this week of
whether he can find any common ground with Republicans as he pushes
trillions in spending on infrastructure, child care and
The president is hosting top lawmakers at the White House to
chart a path forward amid mounting GOP opposition to his agenda and
calls from some Democrats to move his proposals through Congress
without Republican support.
The president has called for more than $4 trillion in spending
across two proposals: a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan centered
on fixing roads and bridges, expanding broadband internet access
and boosting funding for research and development, and a $1.8
trillion plan that would extend the expanded child tax credit, and
provide for tuition-free community college and prekindergarten. The
plans would be paid for through increased taxes on corporations and
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden will hold his first formal meeting since
taking office with top congressional leaders: House Speaker Nancy
Pelosi (D., Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R.,
Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and Senate
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.). The meeting will touch
on several topics, but is expected to focus in part on the
president's spending proposals, White House aides said.
Mr. Biden is also planning to meet at the White House on
Thursday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.) and a group of
Republican senators who have proposed a $568 billion infrastructure
plan. That measure is a narrower alternative to Mr. Biden's plan,
which would spend $2.3 trillion over eight years on programs and
services that go beyond physical infrastructure, among them home
care for seniors and technology and manufacturing research.
While the White House has held a series of previous meetings
with lawmakers on infrastructure, the coming round of talks could
indicate whether Democrats and Republicans can ultimately find a
path toward a compromise. Mrs. Pelosi has set July 4 as an informal
target for passing infrastructure legislation in the House, though
some Democratic aides expect that timeline to slip.
Slower-than-expected job growth in April and recent concerns
about inflation have hardened Republican opposition to Mr. Biden's
In remarks at local events in Kentucky last week, Mr. McConnell
inveighed against the breadth of Mr. Biden's agenda, attacking the
tax increases and proposed spending.
Facing repeated questions about divisions among House
Republicans over former President Donald Trump's role in the
Republican party, Mr. McConnell said his focus was on unifying the
GOP against Mr. Biden's ambitious agenda. He said he was open to
roughly $600 billion in infrastructure spending.
"My hope is that if the president is unable to convince the
narrow Democratic majority in the House and the 50-50 Senate to
pass the $4.1 trillion bill, we can sit down and have a serious
conversation," Mr. McConnell said Thursday.
Some Democrats have questioned how Republicans presented the
$568 billion in spending in their two-page infrastructure outline,
saying that it includes baseline federal transportation funding in
its total. The White House plan calls for spending on top of that
baseline, meaning the gap between the two parties' proposals may be
even wider than it appears.
"I don't believe that that is a serious proposal," said Rep.
Norma Torres (D., Calif.), one of the lawmakers who has recently
met with Mr. Biden at the White House.
Not only would a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure force
each party to compromise on the amount of spending, it would also
require them to agree on how to pay for the package.
Republicans have dismissed Mr. Biden's tax proposals as a
nonstarter, calling for the government to rely on unspecified
user-fee increases and existing government funds to pay for new
infrastructure spending. The White House is opposed to raising user
fees to pay for the plan, though some Democrats have said user-fee
increases should be part of an infrastructure plan.
As talks on infrastructure progress, though, Democrats are
largely writing off the possibility of finding a bipartisan
agreement on Mr. Biden's $1.8 trillion plan on education and child
care, given stark Republican opposition to expanding the social
The impasse over taxes and the GOP criticism of much of Mr.
Biden's agenda means Democrats will likely resort to a budget
maneuver called reconciliation to try to move the proposals through
Congress. Some Democrats have floated the possibility of passing an
infrastructure package with Republican support before moving to a
broader bill along party lines, though other lawmakers have said
they opposed that option.
To begin the reconciliation process, Democrats first have to
either approve a new budget resolution or possibly edit an existing
one, steps that aides said could be weeks away.
In the narrowly divided House and Senate, nearly unanimous
support from rank-and-file Democrats will be necessary to approve
Mr. Biden's agenda through reconciliation. While some Democrats
push for more ambitious steps in the legislation, others are
skeptical of the scope of the spending and tax increases.
Democrats have raised questions both about Mr. Biden's proposals
to raise the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, with some saying
they favor a rate of 25%, and his plan to raise taxes on capital
gains to 43.4% from 23.8% for households making more than $1
million. Others have questioned the need to cover the full cost of
the packages with tax increases.
Mr. Biden said last week he would accept a 25% corporate rate,
while also drawing a red line on deficit spending, telling
reporters the proposals must be paid for. "I'm not willing to
deficit spend," he said.
But the White House later walked back the deficit spending
comments, saying he didn't intend to announce a new position on the
issue. "The only red line he continues to have is inaction," a
White House official said in response to Mr. Biden's remarks.
Mr. Biden said the weaker-than-expected jobs report released
Friday made passage of his proposals more urgent, while Republicans
said it showed that the president's policies weren't working. GOP
lawmakers have raised concerns that expanded jobless benefits were
overly generous and discouraging work.
The $1.8 trillion child care, education and paid leave proposal
Mr. Biden unveiled last month says the administration wants to work
with Congress to make changes to the unemployment insurance system,
including creating automatic triggers for more robust benefits
based on economic conditions. But the White House hasn't yet
released a detailed proposal on the issue. The coronavirus relief
law includes $2 billion to modernize the unemployment insurance
Administration officials said they have conducted hundreds of
calls and briefings with lawmakers and their staff about Mr.
Biden's infrastructure and families plans.
Write to Andrew Duehren at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 09, 2021 07:14 ET (11:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.