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Infrastructure plan should cost up to $800 billion, McConnell says ahead of Biden meeting

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters after the Senate Republican lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 23, 2021.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said an infrastructure plan should cost no more than $800 billion, setting down a marker ahead of a critical week for efforts to craft a bill that would refresh U.S. transportation, broadband and water systems.

“The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about 6-to-800 billion dollars,” the Kentucky Republican told his state’s PBS TV station KET on Sunday, again criticizing President Joe Biden for putting what he called unrelated items in his $2.3 trillion proposal.

McConnell outlined his desired spending cap ahead of Biden’s first meeting with the top four congressional leaders on Wednesday. The president is expected to discuss infrastructure with McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Biden will then meet with six Republican senators to talk about a potential compromise on Thursday. One of those lawmakers, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, led a $568 billion GOP infrastructure proposal last month.

Capito on Friday signaled Republicans could agree to a larger package. She told NBC News that the GOP plan “is not our final offer.”

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The parties would have to settle fundamental disputes to strike an infrastructure deal. Biden, Schumer and Pelosi have indicated they could forge ahead with legislation on their own in the Democratic-held Congress if Republicans — many of whom see blocking the president’s priorities as their best path to retaking the Capitol in the 2022 midterms — are reluctant to compromise.

The president will also meet with Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Tom Carper, D-Del., about infrastructure on Monday, according to The Associated Press. Democrats would need Manchin’s support to pass a bill with a simple majority through special budget rules in a Senate split 50-50 by party. He has expressed doubts about backing more massive spending plans, and said he prefers a 25% corporate tax rate to Biden’s desired 28%.

Biden’s plan includes $400 billion to bolster care for elderly and disabled Americans, along with investments in housing and electric vehicles. Republicans do not consider those policies infrastructure.

The parties also back different methods to pay for the infrastructure improvements. Democrats want to raise the corporate tax rate to at least 25% from 21%, the level set under the 2017 GOP tax plan. Republicans are prepared to oppose any changes to their law.

GOP senators have floated electric vehicle user fees or a diversion of state and local coronavirus relief funds as means to offset infrastructure costs. McConnell also said Sunday that the existing gas tax could raise money for investments.

The Senate minority leader said he opposed “revisiting the tax bill in a way that creates additional problems for the economy.”

Sluggish hiring in April also complicated Biden’s push to pass the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and an additional $1.8 trillion proposal to strengthen child care, education, paid leave and tax credits for families. The president on Friday said the jobs report shows the need to vaccinate more Americans against Covid-19 and pass what he called “vital” recovery bills.

Republicans have said the $300-per-week enhanced unemployment benefit set to expire in September deterred Americans from taking jobs. The president may rebut those arguments during remarks on the economy set for Monday afternoon.

Several other factors could have contributed to slower-than-expected hiring last month. Many parents still have to watch their children during the workday as schools and care facilities reopen.

The jobs report led some Democrats to call for immediate investments in child care — which Biden’s second recovery plan would address. That legislation may not pass for months, even if it overcomes hurdles to get through Congress.

In a statement Friday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said that “if we want moms and dads to go back to work as this pandemic subsides, we need to provide them with the child care they need.”

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