Biden’s attempts to find economic common ground with Republicans threaten to stall out with $1.5 trillion dividing them

Biden
President Joe Biden. Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Bipartisan infrastructure talks are entering their third week with no signs of a deal.
  • The parties still sharply disagree on the amount of spending and what measures should be included.
  • Progressives are calling on Biden to abandon talks they argue aren’t serious on the GOP’s side.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden’s talks on infrastructure with Republicans may stall out in their third week, with negotiators sharply disagreeing on the level of spending required and even the basic definition of the term.

The Biden administration made another offer on Friday, paring down its original proposal to $1.7 trillion from $2.3 trillion. It kept many of the original provisions on so-called social infrastructure and moved some of the funding into other bills.

“The ball is in Republicans’ court,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a press conference on Monday. She said the administration awaited another offer from Republicans, suggesting that a second meeting between the president and senior Republicans could take place next week.

Psaki had previously said the White House may scrap the talks if no major progress had been made by Memorial Day. But she refused to stick to that on Monday, saying, “Our timeline is our own timeline.”

The administration’s bipartisan approach is increasingly colliding with calls from progressives for Biden to end the talks. They argue that Republicans are not serious about striking a deal. Instead, those lawmakers want to start embarking on the reconciliation process, a step that enables the passage of certain bills by a party-line vote in the Senate.

“We would like bipartisanship, but I don’t think we have a seriousness on the part of the Republican leadership to address the major crisis facing this country,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “If they’re not coming forward, we’ve got to go forward alone.”

Alex Lawson, the executive director of the left-leaning group Social Security Works, said the administration’s economic agenda is “incredibly popular,” citing numerous polls that indicate it draws majority support.

“It’s only Republicans in Washington, DC, that have no interest in working with him,” Lawson said. “It’s the Republicans making it clear they are not negotiating anything and they’re only interested in dragging out the process in order to kill it.”

He pointed to President Barack Obama’s failed effort a decade ago to secure GOP votes on healthcare reform.

Lawson said the GOP was similarly “chewing up” days in the congressional calendar to make it harder for a substantial economic package to clear the House and Senate. Democrats narrowly control both, and party leaders are aiming to approve a plan by the summer’s end.

The path ahead for an infrastructure plan remains highly uncertain. The two-part package, initially worth $4 trillion, includes new spending to upgrade roads and bridges, establish in-home elder care, and set up cash payments for parents, tuition-free community college, and universal pre-K. None of it has the backing of GOP lawmakers.

Democrats are pressing for major social-safety-net spending, while Republicans want to constrain it into areas typically viewed as physical infrastructure. Both parties are clashing on methods to finance the plan, with Republicans pushing to either impose new charges on electric-vehicle drivers or bumping the gas tax.

But the White House has poured cold water on the user fees, which it views as the violation of a key campaign pledge.

“What we have not seen from the Republicans is any proposal on how to pay for it that doesn’t raise taxes for Americans earning under $400,000 a year,” Psaki said on Monday.