President Joe Biden and Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito had a “constructive and frank” discussion on Wednesday about revitalizing U.S. infrastructure and agreed to talk again on Friday, the White House said.
Biden and Senate Republicans remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart in their proposals, largely because the Democratic president has a more sweeping definition of infrastructure that includes funding for schools and home healthcare in addition to roads, bridges and other physical assets.
The two parties have been inching closer in recent weeks. Capito, the lead Senate Republican negotiator, unveiled last week a $928 billion counteroffer to Biden’s $1.7 trillion proposal.
Wednesday’s meeting in the Oval Office came as Biden faces pressure from some Democrats in Congress to move forward with the administration’s plans. The president and his top aides have said they prefer a bipartisan deal on infrastructure.
A White House official said Biden and Capito had a “constructive and frank” discussion about the issue, but did not share more details.
A spokeswoman for Capito said the senator is encouraged that negotiations have continued.
She “reiterated to the president her desire to work together to reach an infrastructure agreement that can pass Congress in a bipartisan way,” the spokeswoman added.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he spoke to Capito on Wednesday before the meeting and that she would be suggesting Biden embrace a Republican idea that some of the money Congress appropriated for COVID-19 relief be repurposed for infrastructure.
Speaking in Kentucky, McConnell said state and local officials nationwide would be overwhelmed by “massive” amounts of money from the latest COVID-19 aid bill, passed earlier this year without Republican votes. Some of those funds could be used “to plug the gap between what the gas tax raises, and what we would like to do on infrastructure,” he said.
“I think that’s the key to getting a bipartisan agreement,” McConnell said. “I hope we can get there.”
Biden’s Democrats hold narrow margins of control in both houses of Congress and could try to pass a measure without Republican support through a process called reconciliation that circumvents Senate rules that require 60 votes to pass most legislation. Even that approach is uncertain, however, as at least two Senate Democrats have raised concerns about the maneuver.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has indicated time is running out for negotiating a bipartisan deal.
Aside from the overall cost and scope of the plans, the White House and Senate Republicans remain far apart on how to finance infrastructure projects.
The White House wants to pay for infrastructure projects by hiking taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals, which the Republicans say is a red line for them. Republicans have proposed user fees, which the Biden administration has rejected.
The White House hopes to conclude bipartisan talks in the next week or so, according to a person familiar with the negotiations.