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Biden Starts Bipartisan Infrastructure Talks Over His Bill

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 4/12/2021 Andrew Duehren, Catherine Lucey
a person wearing a suit and tie © Tom Williams/Zuma Press

WASHINGTON—A bipartisan group of lawmakers is set to meet with President Biden today about his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, as Republicans and Democrats seek to determine whether they can reach an agreement on such a package’s size, scope and funding.

The meeting is the latest in a series the White House has held with lawmakers on Capitol Hill involved in infrastructure funding and policy, though it will be the first since Mr. Biden rolled out his framework. At previous meetings, lawmakers have brought up different methods of paying for the infrastructure spending, according to people familiar with the meetings.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the meeting that the Democratic president is committed to working with congressional Republicans.

“He looks forward to hearing their ideas and his objective is to find a way forward where we can modernize our nation’s infrastructure so we can compete with China,” Ms. Psaki said.

She said Mr. Biden had proposed a way to pay for the plan and “he hopes they’ll come to the table with ideas.”

Many of the lawmakers invited to the earlier meetings serve on committees that deal with infrastructure, including the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The White House plan dedicates $621 billion to transportation, $300 billion for domestic manufacturing efforts, $111 billion to water infrastructure and $100 billion to expanding broadband access, among other efforts. It also calls for raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, after Republicans lowered it from 35% in 2017, and taxing more of U.S. companies’ foreign earnings. The White House says these changes would cover the cost of the infrastructure plan over 15 years.

Republicans have criticized several aspects of the plan, including the tax hikes on corporations and the broad scope of the spending. Some GOP lawmakers have instead pushed for the White House to advance a much narrower infrastructure bill.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), who plans to meet with Mr. Biden, said on Sunday that he thought an infrastructure deal is possible if the president were willing to negotiate a smaller package than he has proposed.

“If he will do that with the Republicans that are meeting with him at the White House tomorrow, I think we can get somewhere and have a much bigger infrastructure package than we were able to do under the last administration,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” Mr. Wicker is the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Other lawmakers meeting with Mr. Biden on Monday include Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Sen. Deb Fischer (R., Neb.); and Rep. Garret Graves (R., La.).

Some Democrats are pushing to expand the size of Mr. Biden’s proposal. The White House is expected to release another major package soon, focused on antipoverty and education efforts, that the Congressional Progressive Caucus has said should be combined with the infrastructure bill.

Other Democrats are airing other requests or alternatives for the bill. Some have questioned whether the cost of the whole package needs to be covered with tax increases, arguing instead for a mix of borrowing and raising user fees like the gas tax or a vehicle-miles-traveled tax to finance its spending. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) has backed raising the corporate tax rate to 25%, not 28%, and a group of Democrats from New York and New Jersey are demanding that Congress repeal a limit on state and local tax deductions.

Democrats have the option of passing an infrastructure bill without Republican support if they use a process called reconciliation to advance it. That method would let lawmakers avoid the 60-vote threshold that the filibuster creates for most legislation in the Senate, but it would limit them to passing measures directly related to the budget. Some Democrats expect several provisions in Mr. Biden’s plan, including some of its labor protections, to be ineligible for approval under reconciliation.

Lawmakers have several possible paths on infrastructure, they and their aides say. Republicans and Democrats could come together on a smaller package before Democrats opt to move forward instead on a broader one that includes tax increases, using reconciliation. The party could also potentially combine the infrastructure bill with the coming antipoverty and education package.

Democrats have set informal deadlines for advancing transportation legislation in the House by the end of May, with July 4 as a target for passing the full infrastructure package. With very narrow majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats would need nearly unanimous support within their ranks to pass the bill under reconciliation.

Republicans are closely watching how the White House proceeds on infrastructure after Democrats moved forward with reconciliation to approve a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package earlier this year. Mr. Biden met with a group of 10 Senate Republicans in February on coronavirus relief before deciding that their roughly $600 billion counteroffer was too small.

Write to Andrew Duehren at andrew.duehren@wsj.com and Catherine Lucey at catherine.lucey@wsj.com

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