POLITICS--Republican senators on Thursday unveiled an infrastructure counteroffer calling for just $257 billion in new spending over the next eight years,
a proposal that intensified pressure on the Biden administration and Democratic leaders to abandon their push for bipartisan compromise and unilaterally press ahead with a sufficiently bold package.
While a group of four Senate Republicans led by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia presented the GOP offer as a "serious" $928 billion plan that "delivers on much" of what President Joe Biden requested in earlier talks, roughly $700 billion of the money in the proposal would be repurposed from unspent coronavirus relief funding that was approved to help cash-strapped state and local governments, bolster Covid-19 testing, and expand the child tax credit. (Photo above: Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) speaks during a news conference with Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) at the U.S. Capitol on May 27, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
"Democrats need to move on for the people and work to make the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan a reality for all."
—Rahna Epting, MoveOn
The Republican blueprint also omits green energy investments and elder care funds included in Biden's $2.2 trillion opening bid. Progressive members of Congress and advocacy groups have criticized Biden's initial plan as inadequate and called for $10 trillion in spending on infrastructure and clean energy over the next decade.
Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, said in a statement Thursday that lawmakers "cannot afford to waste any more time on this Republican scheme—families need our help now."
"Another day, another offer from Republicans that falls well short of meeting the needs of this moment," said Epting. "This is a classic Washington trick—attempt to run out the clock with budgetary gimmicks and inadequate counteroffers and call it bipartisanship. It is time Democrats end this game."
"Democrats need to move on for the people," Epting added, "and work to make the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan a reality for all."
The GOP unveiled its counterproposal following weeks of fruitless infrastructure talks with the White House, which has publicly remained committed to seeking a deal with Republicans even as the right-wing party's leadership bashes the president's plan as excessive.
Capito said Thursday that the "human infrastructure" investments that Biden is proposing as part of his jobs plan—including money for home and community-based services for elderly adults—is a "nonstarter" for the GOP. The West Virginia senator has also said that Republicans won't accept any changes to the GOP's 2017 tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefited the rich and large corporations.
Biden, for his part, has proposed hiking taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals to help pay for the infrastructure and climate package.
"This latest proposal is woefully inadequate and will leave millions of workers, families, and businesses out to dry," Claire Guzdar of ProsperUS, a coalition of progressive organizations and activists, said in a statement responding to the Republican offer.
"We've heard stories from unemployed workers, caregivers, and people struggling to pay rent that show us how much need there is for additional action," Guzdar added. "Poll after poll shows that voters support more economic relief right now, not less. And there is clear evidence that our economy works best when we put workers, families, and communities at the center of it."
The White House's refusal to quickly move forward without Republicans—and its willingness to weaken Biden's initial offer in the hopes of attracting GOP support—has frustrated progressive lawmakers who argue that the minority party is interested solely in hindering the president's agenda, not reaching a reasonable agreement.
"Republicans aren't interested in compromise. They never were," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Tuesday. "Let's meet the scale of this crisis and pass the bold package our nation needs."
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is "concerned" that the GOP plan doesn't include adequate funding for "fixing our veterans' hospitals, building modern rail systems, repairing our transit systems, removing dangerous lead pipes, and powering America's leadership in a job-creating clean energy economy." Psaki went on to say that talks with Republicans will continue into next week.
But even centrist Senate Democrats are beginning to lose their patience as the infrastructure negotiations drag on with no deal in sight, potentially delaying passage of an eventual bill until the next fiscal year and further setting back action on other key agenda items, from voting rights to child care to immigration reform.
"It's getting close to pulling-the-plug time," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told reporters Thursday in response to the GOP's latest proposal.
Ellen Sciales, press secretary of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, called on Biden and congressional Democrats to "use the power vested in them by voters to do what's needed with or without the GOP."
"Do not cower to Republicans," said Sciales. "Ceding to Republicans and accepting any GOP proposal will only lead to the death of more people from extreme weather, continue the persistent under- and unemployment Americans are facing, and will put in jeopardy the Democratic majority in 2022 and 2024."
(Jake Johnson writes for CommonDreams.org … where this piece was first posted.)