Republicans Release $928B Infrastructure Counteroffer In Response To Biden Plan The move comes days after President Biden offered to lop off $550 billion from his original proposal, moving the two sides closer than they have ever been, though significant challenges remain.

Senate Republicans Release $928 Billion Infrastructure Counteroffer

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Senate Republicans have put out their own infrastructure plan totaling $928 billion. They say it focuses on areas where Republicans and Democrats can work together to get an infrastructure bill signed into law.

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SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: It sticks to the core infrastructure features that we talked to initially. It's a serious effort to try to reach a bipartisan agreement.

MARTIN: That's the voice of West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who's been leading the GOP effort. The plan includes significant increases in spending for roads, bridges and highways. But Republicans and President Biden are still far apart when it comes to how they actually define infrastructure and how they want to pay for it all. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is with us this morning for more. Hi, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

MARTIN: Tell us more. What else is in this latest GOP counterproposal?

SNELL: So this is an eight-year spending framework. And like you said, it totals around $928 billion, but not all of that is new money. I think the single largest spending item that we see here is $506 billion for roads, bridges and major projects. And that is a $91 billion increase from where they were in this baseline. There are other increases, like $48 billion for water infrastructure, $25 billion for airports and money for broadband and freight and passenger rail. But a bulk of this plan is baseline spending, meaning it's money Congress already planned to spend on projects like this. The new money portion is only about $257 billion. And it can feel like a lot of money when we're talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, but when you put it in the context of President Biden's $1.7 trillion plan, it's just a completely different world of a conversation about spending.

MARTIN: OK, but you're saying the new money is only about $257 billion still. How do Republicans plan to pay for that?

SNELL: Well, this is one of the most controversial elements of their plan. They want to repurpose money Congress already approved for spending and they want to take it primarily from unspent COVID relief money. Now, not only is that controversial on its face - Democrats say the pandemic isn't over and the long-term needs of the country are really not yet known - but there's also a serious disagreement about whether the money is actually unspent. And then it comes down to how they want to cut the money. Senator Capito called out one very controversial option.

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CAPITO: I would just use as an example the twenty - I think - three states that have said they're not going to take enhanced unemployment. Now, there may be some way they're calculating that, but certainly those dollars are not going to be spent. We know that.

SNELL: That already set off alarm bells for some Democrats because enhanced unemployment is a huge political fight and targeting that, you know, going into that spending, drags infrastructure deep into an existing political war. And that's kind of the opposite of what these bipartisan talks are meant to do. Though, Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said he'd be open to talking to Democrats about which COVID-related programs should be trimmed.

MARTIN: So are Democrats seeing this as a serious counterproposal?

SNELL: You know, some of the early feedback has been very skeptical. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz pointed out how small the increase in new money is. And that's really likely to be a big problem for a lot of Democrats because Biden wants a few Republicans on board. He doesn't want a plan that pleases Republicans and loses votes from his own party because, you know, he needs Democrats to be unified, both as a political matter and for the pure math of getting something passed in the House where they've got really tight margins. It's good to remember that when people in Washington say bipartisan, sometimes all they mean is that one person from the other side had voted for them. And in this case, Biden needs 10 Republicans to vote for a plan in the Senate to get anything passed. And there'll be tremendous pressure not to abandon Democrats to get those votes.

MARTIN: So in their unveiling of this plan - I mean, did Republicans address any of the potential criticisms that are already coming from Democrats?

SNELL: They did a bit. You know, basically, they said Biden has two options - either keep going on these talks or alienate every Republican in Congress. Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said Biden is welcome to keep trying and pushing his $1.7 trillion plan. But, you know, if he does that, there's a risk.

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JOHN BARRASSO: If that's the direction that they want to go, they can try it. They're not going to have even a single Republican support for that approach. I would say to President Biden, this is something that will work, it will help the country, will help us move forward.

SNELL: That's a bit of a political threat there. And it certainly doesn't do much to quiet speculation that Democrats are already prepared to abandon these bipartisan talks and kind of pursue a different strategy.

MARTIN: All right. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thanks for having me.

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