WASHINGTON – Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday time is running short for a bipartisan deal on infrastructure, indicating that President Joe Biden will look to act without Republican support if there is no consensus when Congress returns from its Memorial Day break.
“By the time that they return, which is June 7, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction,” Buttigieg said. “The president keeps saying inaction is not an option. And time is not unlimited here." He said the American people “expect us to do something.”
Biden plans to meet with lead Republican negotiator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, this coming week and says he remains open to hearing from other GOP senators who are working on different proposals. But Biden has been eying the dwindling timeline for a deal, with an early June hearing scheduled on a House transportation bill that is widely seen as a building block for the big package he favors.
Democratic senators also plan on moving forward on a sweeping infrastructure package “with or without the support of Republican senators,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to Democrats on Friday. Biden had originally set a Memorial Day deadline for reaching a deal before he let that deadline slip back.
The two sides remain far apart. Republican senators last week outlined a $928 billion infrastructure proposal as a counteroffer to Biden’s $1.7 trillion proposal, and they said they would not go along with his plans to raise the corporate tax from 21% to 28% to pay for new spending.
Republicans want to shift unspent COVID-19 relief dollars to help cover the costs, a nonstarter for many Democrats and a proposal that Biden is finding unworkable, a White House adviser told The Associated Press on Friday.
On Sunday, Capito said she remained hopeful the two sides can move closer to agreement.
“I think we can get to real compromise, absolutely, because we’re both still in the game,” she said. “I think the president told me himself that let’s get this done. We realize this is not easy. I think we bring every idea that’s on the table into the negotiations to see how we can achieve this and get it across the threshold.”
Capito said Republicans still disagree with Biden on what should be considered “infrastructure,” saying it should focus on the “physical core idea” such as roads, bridges, ports and even newer things such as broadband, but not elder care as Biden proposes. But Capito said that she believes his “heart” is in the bipartisan talks, and that there remains a “hunger for bipartisanship.”
“I think that’s what we see and, in fact, we are inching towards one another,” she insisted.
Buttigieg said while Republicans “philosophically seem to agree that trillion-dollar investments are the kind of thing we need to be doing right now,” there is “a lot of daylight” between the two sides, such as investments to boost the electric vehicle market to shift Americans away from gas-powered cars to stem greenhouse gas emissions.
The GOP plan amounts to about $250 billion in new spending, far from the president’s approach. Biden reduced his $2.3 trillion opening bid to $1.7 trillion in earlier negotiations.
“I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment,” Buttigieg said Sunday. “We believe in this process, but also very much agree that this can’t go on forever.”
Buttigieg appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC’s “This Week,” and “Fox News Sunday.” Capito also appeared on Fox.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.