US Republicans’ infrastructure offer a fraction of Biden’s plan

Senate Republicans propose a narrower and lower-cost alternative to the $2.3 trillion Joe Biden hopes to spend.

Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito, Roger Wicker and John Barrasso offered a counter-proposal to President Joe Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan [Erin Scott/Reuters]

A group of Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a public works proposal with a much smaller price tag and a narrower definition of infrastructure than what President Joe Biden has proposed, highlighting the stark differences between the two sides that will be difficult to bridge in coming months.

The price of the Republican proposal came in at $568bn over five years, compared with the $2.3 trillion that Biden has called for spending over eight years.

To help pay for their plan, the Republicans would rely on user fees, including for electric vehicles, and on redirecting unspent federal dollars. The outline does not offer specifics, such as which federal programmes would lose unspent dollars to infrastructure. Biden has proposed raising the corporate income tax from 21 percent to 28 percent to help pay for his plan, a move the Republican senators have rejected.

“This is the largest infrastructure investment that Republicans have come forward with,” Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito told reporters. “This is a robust package.”

Republican lawmakers have been quick to criticise the infrastructure proposal from Biden. They say just a fraction of the spending would go to traditional infrastructure. Biden’s plan devotes $400bn to expand Medicaid support for caregivers, and substantial portions would fund electric vehicle charging stations and address the racial injustice of highways that were built in ways that devastated Black neighbourhoods.

The Republican plan would dedicate $299bn to roads and bridges, $65bn to broadband internet and $61bn to transit. Another big-ticket item: $44bn for airports. Missing from the plan is Biden’s focus on electric vehicle charging stations and caregiver support. The senators delivered their blueprint to the White House about 30 minutes before holding a news conference on it.

“We take the part of the president’s plan that most Americans agree is real, hard infrastructure, we give it our touch and we think we have a very good number here,” said Republican Senator Roger Wicker.

The president has said from the beginning that he would welcome any good faith effort to find common ground, because the only unacceptable step would be inaction,” White House news secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday. “We’re looking forward to reviewing the details of the proposal,” she said, adding “I would expect that you should all expect the president to invite members to the White House” soon after he delivers his first speech to a joint session of Congress next week.

Republicans earlier this year also offered a counterproposal to Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan. Their price tag came in at about one-third of what the president wanted, and he soon declared it inadequate. Democrats went forward on their own and passed the relief bill without the support of any GOP legislator.

Room for compromise?

Biden is spending more time this go-around listening to Republicans and voicing a willingness to consider their ideas, but the end result could be the same. Democrats are intent on passing a major infrastructure boost this year and could use the budget reconciliation process to bypass GOP opposition.

Roger Wicker speaks during a news conference to introduce the Republican infrastructure plan, at the US Capitol, April 22, 2021 [Erin Scott/Reuters]

Capito said she is optimistic that compromise can be found this time.

“I’ve been reading this very closely,” she said. “I feel like the White House and other counterparts on the House side want to try to reach a consensus, hard infrastructure bill.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies