Biden plans to gather with lawmakers including Sen. Maria Cantwell (Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, and Sen. Roger Wicker (Miss.), her GOP counterpart. The panel plays a critical role in congressional debates on railroads and broadband Internet access, which form a critical portion of the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan.
Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Donald M. Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), meanwhile, belong to a separate panel of House lawmakers considering legislation to fund and improve the nation’s highways and roadways while implementing new programs to reduce carbon emissions. They will also attend the meeting.
The White House has taken pains to emphasize that all pieces of Biden’s proposal are open to revisions, whether they involve the parameters of the plan or how the president wants to pay for it. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Biden is “absolutely” willing to negotiate.
“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,” Psaki said Monday in advance of the meeting. “He’s proposed a way to pay for it, which is what he thinks the responsible thing is to do. And he hopes they’ll come to the table with ideas.”
The White House gathering marks a period of intense outreach on the part of the Biden administration, which deputized Cabinet leaders including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg this month to sell the package known as the American Jobs Plan to congressional lawmakers and local government officials nationwide.
The president has insisted that the White House intends to be bipartisan, and he hopes to adopt a law with GOP support, given the broad political appeal in addressing the country’s infrastructure needs. But the administration has signaled it does not have a tolerance for endless negotiations, opening the door for Democrats to act on their own, much as they did with the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package they secured in March.
With infrastructure, the pathways to passage grew increasingly complicated last week. Republican lawmakers criticized Biden’s proposal for its scope, arguing that programs that tackle climate change and social issues (including child care) do not belong in an infrastructure package. Party leaders also took great issue with its roughly $2 trillion price tag and the accompanying tax increases Biden has put forward to pay for it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted that Republicans are disinclined to support it in its current form.
Some Democrats, including centrist Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, raised their own objections to the tax hikes, which would raise the corporate rate to 28 percent from 21 percent. But Manchin also sounded a key political warning for the Biden administration last week: He urged Democrats not to rely on an arcane legislative maneuver known as reconciliation to advance infrastructure reform with only 51 votes.
Entering the meeting, the White House on Monday also sought to illustrate the case for infrastructure reform in all 50 states, putting out fact-sheets that show how years of underfunded projects nationwide has resulted in poor roads, bridges, waterways and broadband connections. In Manchin’s home state, the White House pointed to more than 1,500 bridges and 3,200 miles of highway in “poor condition,” prompting the administration to conclude: “The need for action is clear.”