Biden, GOP’s Capito end infrastructure talks without a deal

Nancy Cook and Josh Wingrove

President Joe Biden ended talks with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito on an infrastructure plan on Tuesday without a deal, after failing to reach agreement on the scope of spending or how to pay for it.

The talks concluded after a brief phone call between the president and the West Virginia senator. Biden will instead turn his attention to a bipartisan group of senators working on their own infrastructure plan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

“The president is committed to moving his economic legislation through Congress this summer, and is pursuing multiple paths to get this done,” Psaki said, adding that Biden also spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday about advancing Democratic-written legislation.

In this photo taken Thursday, May 27, 2021, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., the GOP's lead negotiator on a counteroffer to President Joe Biden's infrastructure plan, speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Washington.

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The bipartisan group of 20 senators has not yet signed off on a proposal, according to members. Instead, a smaller faction led by Utah Republican Mitt Romney and Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema have agreed on a spending level and how to pay for it, according to Romney, though he declined to give any details. One senator in the group said that it has agreed to more than $900 billion over eight years.

Romney said he and other members of the smaller group plan to meet this evening to discuss their proposal. Biden also spoke Tuesday with Sinema and Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a Republican, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat, Psaki said.

A White House official said Biden and Capito called off their talks after the Republican and her allies refused to agree to higher new spending in the plan or detail specific ways to pay for it. Republicans have rejected Biden’s proposal to raise taxes on corporations and high-income Americans.

“While I appreciate President Biden’s willingness to devote so much time and effort to these negotiations, he ultimately chose not to accept the very robust and targeted infrastructure package, and instead, end our discussions,” Capito said in a statement. “After negotiating in good faith and making significant progress to move closer to what the president wanted, I am disappointed by his decision.”

The blame game between the White House and Capitol Hill started almost as soon as the Tuesday call between Biden and Capito ended.

Senator John Barrasso, the third-ranking Senate Republican and a member of the team negotiating with Biden, torched the White House for creating a significant “roadblock” to getting a deal, both with continued demands for more spending than Republicans want and higher taxes that they oppose.

The White House said Biden had already come down by about a trillion dollars on spending.

Barrasso said Biden had agreed to $1 trillion over 8 years including money Congress is already set to spend, and that he had also agreed to repurpose some money from pandemic relief laws passed last year and under the new administration. Barrasso predicted Biden would have trouble reaching a deal with the bipartisan group that would pass the Senate, where 60 votes are required to overcome filibusters.

“It will be very difficult for him to get 60 votes working with the G-20 because he won’t get the rest of the Democrats,” Barrasso said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Democrats are reserving the possibility of passing an infrastructure bill that would require only 50 votes using the budget reconciliation procedure that prevents filibusters.

“We’re pursuing two tracks: one bipartisan and one reconciliation,” he said.

The White House official said the president never agreed to support the rescission of funds from pandemic relief packages, or to a $1 trillion package. The official said the president has always been clear that there would need to be a significant investment beyond so-called “baseline” spending.