© Reuters. U.S. President Biden holds first Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington
By David Morgan and Jarrett Renshaw
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden may come under pressure on Monday to prove his much-touted interest in working with Republicans in Congress, as lawmakers return from their spring break to grapple with his $2.3 trillion proposal to improve U.S. infrastructure.
The Democratic president appears to be losing political capital with 10 Senate Republicans who have signaled an openness to working with Democrats, including Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, whose support could give him the votes to pass bipartisan legislation.
Biden’s party narrowly controls the House of Representatives and Senate, meaning he can ill afford to lose Democratic votes. That has emboldened Democratic moderates such as Senator Joe Manchin, who have outsized influence over his legislative priorities.
Biden, who was in the Senate for 36 years, has repeated his stated desire to collaborate with Republicans. He is scheduled to host Republicans and Democrats from both chambers at the White House at 1:45 p.m. EDT on Monday (1745 GMT) to discuss a way forward on the infrastructure plan.
“Even before the American Jobs Plan was announced, the president himself and White House senior staff were briefing Republican lawmakers on the proposal,” said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But Biden can expect a skeptical reception from 10 Senate Republicans who met the president on his covid-19 relief legislation in February, only to have their calls to shrink the package dismissed. Democrats later used a special legislative tool to pass the $1.9 trillion bill without Republican support.
The White House official said the covid-19 bill was a response to a raging national crisis and that negotiations on infrastructure would be more deliberative.
Biden also angered the 10 Senate Republicans last week by saying they had been unwilling to compromise. “They didn’t move an inch. Not an inch,” Biden said on Wednesday.
“That kind of bait and switch, coupled with President Biden’s ‘not one inch’ comments, certainly made an impression on the group of 10 about where this is all going,” said a Republican congressional aide close to February’s bipartisan talks. “The administration’s words ring hollow.”
None of the 10 Senate Republicans will join Biden at the White House on Monday. He will instead meet Republicans with leading roles on congressional committees: Senators Roger Wicker and Deb Fischer, and Representatives Don Young and Garret Graves.
Biden’s infrastructure bill is already a hard sell for Republicans. They object to provisions aimed at addressing climate change and human services, as well as a proposal to increase corporate taxes that were lowered by former President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax restructuring.
A three-page memo issued by the Senate Republican Conference dismisses the Biden infrastructure proposal as “a partisan plan to kill jobs and create slush funds on the taxpayer dime” that devotes “just 5%” of spending to roads and bridges.
Republicans instead are coalescing around a targeted infrastructure approach focused on improvements to roads, bridges and broadband access which would be paid through user fees and tax incentives.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons, one of Biden’s closest congressional allies, said several Senate Republicans could be willing to support a higher gasoline tax and a road tax on electric vehicles to fund infrastructure.
But top Democrats show no signs of willingness to scale back Biden’s proposal.
“You can’t think small when we’re talking about the greatness of America,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who aims to pass Biden’s package by July 4.
Without Republican support, Democrats would have to rely on the parliamentary process called reconciliation that lets the 100-member Senate pass certain legislation with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to advance most bills.