U.S. Senate Republican sees short window for infrastructure deal

U.S Senate Republicans face reporters following weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) faces reporters after the Senate Republican lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Senate Republicans and the White House could have as little as a week to 10 days to overcome their differences on infrastructure and strike a deal to revitalize America’s roads and bridges, a top Republican said on Sunday.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, who is among a group of Republicans negotiating with the Biden administration, said the two sides are still far apart on how to define infrastructure, which President Joe Biden views as a wide-ranging topic that includes climate change and social issues such as elder care, as well as roads and bridges.

“I do think we’ve got about a week or 10 days to decide if we can work together on this or not,” Blunt said in an interview on the television program “Fox News Sunday.”

Blunt gave no reason for his prediction. Some Democrats have suggested Biden could give Republicans until the end of May to agree on legislation. The Senate is also scheduled to depart for its Memorial Day holiday break at the end of this week.

On Friday, the White House pared down Biden’s initial $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal to $1.7 trillion in a bid to move closer to a deal with Republicans. Senate Republicans, including Blunt, dismissed the gesture as insufficient.

Some Republicans believe the success of current infrastructure negotiations could determine how much bipartisan scope there is for other White House priorities.

“This is the test. This will determine whether or not we can work together in a bipartisan way on an important issue,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, a leading advocate of bipartisanship, told ABC’s program This Week.

Biden’s sweeping proposal includes traditional infrastructure projects but also seeks to rechart the direction of the U.S. economy with its focus on climate change and social programs.

Republicans have rejected Biden’s plan and instead called for an approach limited to roads, bridges, airports, waterways and broadband access. They unveiled an initial proposal costing $568 billion.

‘Still pretty far apart’

Despite Biden’s stated interest in bipartisanship, Democrats and White House officials say the president could decide to move forward without Republican support, if Republican lawmakers are unable to agree on a bipartisan plan.

“He will not let inaction be the answer and when it gets to a point where it looks like that is inevitable, you’ll see him change course,” Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, told CNN’s State of the Union program on Sunday.

“But for now, we’re engaged in what we want to be a bipartisan infrastructure bill that invests in the backbone of this country, the middle class, and our future,” he added.

Vermont Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, told CBS’ Face the Nation program: “If they’re not coming forward, we’ve got to go forward alone.”

Collins said the White House’s move to pare back the Biden proposal simply moves some of the original spending into separate legislation now on the Senate floor.

“So I think we’re still pretty far apart,” said Collins.

The senator and other Republicans have pointed to the mammoth size of the Biden plan as a reason for their opposition, saying the spending raises concerns about the deficit and federal debt. Republicans also reject Biden’s plan to pay for infrastructure by raising taxes on U.S. corporations.

Blunt said spending is not the biggest difference facing negotiators now.

“Our biggest gap is defining what infrastructure is,” he said. “If we get to a definition of infrastructure that the country would have always accepted, that becomes a much narrower space than it appears to be right now,” he said.

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