Lisa Mascaro, Associated Press
Republicans in Congress are making the politically brazen bet that it’s more advantageous to oppose President Joe Biden’s ambitious “Rebuild America” agenda than to lend support for the costly $2.3 trillion undertaking for roads, bridges and other infrastructure investments.
Much the way Republicans provided no votes for the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, they plan to stay on the sidelines for this next big lift by the White House, forcing Democrats to take full ownership of the massive package of spending and corporate tax hikes that Biden wants approved over the summer. Both sides are digging in this week as Biden shows no signs adjusting to satisfy Republican leaders, instead appealing directly to their constituents.
“They know we need it,” Biden said of the Republicans Monday as he returned to Washington.
The president did not close the door on negotiations but vowed to “push as hard as I can” for the plan. “Everybody around the world is investing billions and billions of dollars in infrastructure, and we’re going to do it here,” he said.
That leaves Biden and congressional Republicans on a collision course, the outcome of which could define the parties and his presidency. The GOP strategy is reminiscent of their Obama-era stance that helped sour voters on the Democratic president and his Congress more than a decade ago. Then and now Republicans are intent on saddling Democrats with responsibility for all the taxes and spending to come, much as they did the 2009 rescue after the economic crisis, framing it as government overreach that piles on debt.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declared plainly on Monday that Biden’s plan is “something we’re not going to do.” Speaking to reporters in Kentucky, McConnell said Republicans could support a “much more modest” approach, and one that doesn’t rely on corporate tax hikes to pay for it. But it’s not at all certain the GOP playbook that worked more than a decade ago will produce the same political gains this time around. Voters appear tired of the partisan stalemate in Washington. Many live in the country’s run-down areas and are signaling they are initially supportive of Biden’s approach to governing, at least on the virus aid package.
Sen. Roy Blunt a member of Senate GOP leadership, said Sunday a smaller infrastructure package of about $615 billion, or 30% of what Biden is proposing, could find bipartisan backing from Republicans if the White House did way with the new tax and relied on user fees or other ways to pay for the spending.
Under the Biden plan, the corporate tax rate would rise back to 28% — not fully reversing the Trump-era GOP tax cut on big business but settling on a middle ground from what had been a 35% rate before Republicans approved the 2017 tax overhaul. It’s now at 21%,
Rather than shy from a new era of bigger government, Democratic leaders in Congress are embracing it, believing they can bypass the GOP blockade on Capitol Hill and make the case directly to Americans hungry for investments in homes, communities and livelihoods, especially as China and other rival countries make advancements.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compares Biden’s plan to the far-reaching aims of presidents before him — from Thomas Jefferson’s efforts to build the Erie Canal to Teddy Roosevelt’s designs on a national park system.
Progressives want Biden to go even bigger. Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday he expects more funding to combat climate change and is pushing to include his own proposal to expand Medicare with dental, vision and hearing aid care for seniors.
As Congress hunkers down to begin drafting the legislation for Biden’s proposal, both parties will be put the test.
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