Speed Reads

Infrastructure week continues

GOP readies $1 trillion infrastructure counteroffer, but most of it apparently comes from COVID-19 funds

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) seems to be the only person in Washington who's optimistic about the prospects for an infrastructure deal. President Biden has offered to lower his American Jobs Plan's proposed price tag to $1.7 trillion, from $2.3 trillion, while Senate Republicans have raised their counteroffer to about $800 billion, from $568 billion, though that's mostly from extending the life of the proposal to eight years, from five.

Now, the Republicans, led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), have signaled they are ready to come back to the table Thursday with an eight-year offer totaling about $1 trillion, but about 70 percent of that money would come from COVID-19 relief funds that have yet to be spent. No Republicans voted for the last $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief legislation. Democrats are unlikely to embrace paying for upgrading America's infrastructure by siphoning off coronavirus relief funds, much of which have been promised to states and local governments.

"My view is that we gave that to the cities and states and counties with the understanding that it may take a little time for them to spend it," Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a longtime congressional budget expert, told The Associated Press. "I think it'd be a big mistake to try to claw that back."

Democrats and Republicans are also in disagreement about the scope of the bill — Republicans insist it only cover physical infrastructure and broadband, while Biden has held firm on funding renewable energy infrastructure and care for children and the elderly. Democrats also want to pay for the play by raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, from 21 percent, a nonstarter for many Republicans, who consider their 2017 tax overhaul sacrosanct. And the GOP plan to raise funds through user fees and upping the gas tax would violate Biden's pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than $400,000.

"The West Wing believes its bargaining position is strong," AP reports. "Aides point to Biden's high poll numbers and the popularity of his proposals, all while believing that they have the option of muscling the infrastructure plan to passage under special budget reconciliation rules that require only a party-line vote." But that party-line vote would require Manchin, who is currently working on a bipartisan "backup" plan with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and a handful of other Republicans and Democrats.