A group of Senate Republicans laid down their marker in the infrastructure debate in Washington on Thursday, unveiling in broad terms a plan to spend $568 billion over five years on roads, bridges, highways, broadband and other public works projects.
The proposal would be a far less expansive version of an infrastructure spending bill that the White House and congressional Democrats have been seeking. Advocates on Thursday said it focused on a more traditional idea of infrastructure, in contrast to President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan which also includes cash for things not usually seen as public works, like elder care.
“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 Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.
Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who led the effort, called the proposal “the most robust plan ever put forward ever as Republicans.”
At the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration views the Republicans’ proposal as a starting point for conversation about an infrastructure package.
“It’s the beginning of a discussions,” Psaki told reporters at the daily briefing. She said that Biden would invite members of Congress to the White House for discussions following his address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
The proposed breakdown by infrastructure sector in the Republican bill would include:
- $299 billion for roads and bridges;
- $65 billion new money for broadband;
- $61 billion for public transit systems;
- $44 billion for airports
- $35 billion for drinking water and waste water projects;
- $20 billion for rail;
- $17 billion for ports and inland waterways;
- $14 billion for water storage; and
- $13 billion for highway and pipeline safety.
Capito described the money to be used to pay for the projects as a combination of usual annual appropriations made by Congress with extra money on top. Some of that new money, the group of four senators said, could come from repurposing unspent coronavirus aid cash sent to states.
One place where it should not come from, according to Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, is changing the tax overhaul Republicans pushed through Congress in 2017. He credited that bill with helping the pre-COVID-19 economy expand rapidly.
“That’s a really good place to get back to. You don’t get back there by ruining the tax reform that helped us get there,” he said.
While the GOP senators represented the party leaders on the committees most likely to be involved in writing an infrastructure bill, the plan also got support from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who said it had “the potential to be a reasonable and bipartisan alternative.”
House Republicans will also put out some ideas on infrastructure, according to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the party’s leader in the House. McCarthy said at his weekly press conference Thursday it would be unveiled “very soon” but did not elaborate.
Democrats and the White House have eyed the 2017 tax law as a potentially key source of offsets or new money that could be gained by repealing or easing back on some of the tax breaks, for spending on infrastructure.
Senate Democrats reacted warily to the plan, with Sen. Joe Manchin, a key Democrat from West Virginia, saying it was starting point. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “Any infrastructure proposal has to be green and cannot be paid for on the backs of working people. We’ll see what their proposal does. I haven’t studied it yet.”
Wicker said the Republican plan should not be dismissed out of hand because of how much smaller it is than the president’s outline.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised that some of our colleagues have rejected this before even seeing it,” he said. “We think a number of our Democratic colleagues will want to negotiate.”