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: Senate Republicans’ opening infrastructure bid: $568 billion

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A group of Senate Republicans laid down their marker in the infrastructure debate in Washington 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.”

The proposed breakdown 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.

Democrats and the White House have eyed the 2017 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.

Wicker said the 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.”

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