Republicans on Capitol Hill say President Biden’s infrastructure proposal is the clearest sign yet that the White House has no intention of working with them on big legislation.
The $2.25 trillion plan unveiled this week by Biden takes direct aim at former President Trump’s signature economic achievement by raising the corporate tax rate that Republicans lowered in their 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
“It’s pretty clear the way it is being crafted is far-left and goes after the marquis item that we passed on taxes,” said a Senate Republican aide.
Biden’s proposal “fundamentally takes the approach that government and government spending is the answer, and we strongly disagree with that,” the aide said.
Every single Republican who was in the Senate in 2017 voted for Trump’s tax plan, including the GOP lawmakers who are viewed as potentially working with Biden on infrastructure: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).
Senate Republican aides say it’s “highly unlikely” that any GOP senators will vote for Biden’s plan, noting that even a key moderate like Collins is allied with the party’s core position of favoring lower taxes.
Collins reportedly laughed when asked last month how Senate Republicans would react to proposals from the White House that raise taxes.
“I would not anticipate that it would be well received,” she said.
Democrats acknowledge they’re not going to get more than a few Republican votes, if any, which is why they’re openly discussing the possibility of passing Biden’s proposal under the budget reconciliation process that would allow them to sidestep a GOP filibuster. But they also insist they’re open to working with Republicans and incorporating some of their ideas on infrastructure.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain told Politico in an interview Thursday morning that Biden will invite lawmakers from both parties to the White House in the coming weeks to build bipartisan support.
“We want to move forward, if it’s at all possible, on a bipartisan basis, and I think there’s some hope for that,” he said.
Klain said Biden is ready to listen to Republican proposals to pay for infrastructure but at the end of the day the president believes he has a political mandate to get a bold proposal passed through Congress.
“In the end — let me be clear — the president was elected to do a job and part of that job is to get this country ready to win the future. That’s what he’s going to do. We know it has bipartisan support in the country and so we’re going to try our best to get bipartisan support here in Washington,” he said.
Republicans have seized on such remarks, saying they show Democrats are more than willing to freeze out Republicans.
“This is about as partisan as it gets. It’s the opposite of bipartisan, especially if you move it through reconciliation,” the Senate GOP aide said.
One Republican moderate, Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), blasted Biden on Thursday afternoon over talk of moving the infrastructure package under the special budgetary rules that would enable them to pass the measure with only a simple majority in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote.
“A Senate evenly split between both parties and a bare Democratic House majority are hardly a mandate to ‘go it alone.’ The President should live up to the bipartisanship he preached in his inaugural address,” Romney tweeted.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday that Biden’s infrastructure plan won’t get any Republican votes in the Senate.
“I think that package that they’re putting together now — as much as we would like to address infrastructure — is not going to get support from our side,” he said. “The last thing the economy needs right now is a big whopping tax increase on all the productive sections of our economy.”
He also praised the 2017 tax cuts.
“Just a little over a year ago we had the best economy in 50 years. The principal reason for that was the tax reform package we did in 2017, which drove the rates down for corporations, for individuals and for those who were producing the jobs that were benefiting everybody in the country,” he said.
Asked about McConnell’s comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki pointed out that many Republicans want to boost infrastructure spending.
“There are a lot of areas where there is agreement across the political spectrum,” Psaki told reporters, reiterating that Biden is open-minded about how to pay for these investments.
“What we’re really talking about here is how to pay for it, and so what we’re looking for is proposals of alternatives,” she said.
Psaki also said that unlike the “emergency” nature of the COVID-19 relief bill that passed last month, without any GOP votes, there would be more time for negotiations on infrastructure.
“We’ve got a little bit more time here to work and have discussions with members of both parties. We want to see progress by Memorial Day, we’d like to see this package passed by the summer, but I certainly expect when Congress returns that the president will be inviting members to the Oval Office,” she told reporters.
But getting any Republicans to vote for raising taxes after voting to cut them just four years ago is a tall order.
Matthew Dickerson, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Grover Hermann Center for the Federal Budget, said a recent study published by the conservative think tank found the Trump tax cut “resulted in higher wages, more jobs, more investment.”
“Reversing those gains would have an extremely negative effect on the economy,” he said, warning that workers and consumers would be impacted by lower wages and higher costs.
Austan Goolsbee, a top White House economic adviser during the Obama administration, countered that there’s no evidence to back up GOP contentions that the corporate tax increase would hurt working families and undermine the economy.
He said Republican predictions for the 2017 tax cuts — that they would accelerate wage growth and the investment rate, in addition to paying for themselves without adding to the deficit — never came to fruition.
“The retrospective look at what happened post that tax cut does not back up any of their major contentions,” Goolsbee said.
A second Senate Republican aide said that despite overtures by the White House to hold bipartisan talks on infrastructure, moderate GOP senators are extremely skeptical after having nothing to show for engaging with Biden in the early stages of the American Rescue Plan when they offered a $600 billion counterproposal to the president’s $1.9 trillion plan.
“This is not a good-faith effort and no Republicans were consulted in advance of putting together this plan. They have no intention of working with Republicans,” the aide said. “They can have all the ‘hey we want to brief you-on our plan’ phone calls, but that’s not bipartisanship.”