Biden ends infrastructure talks with Senate GOP, starts engaging bipartisan group

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Bipartisan infrastructure talks between President Joe Biden and GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito are over, and the White House will now focus on working with a bipartisan group of 20 senators.

Biden and Capito spoke for five minutes Tuesday, the West Virginia senator said, the final conversation in what’s been a stubborn deadlock over how to pay for a massive infrastructure bill and how large that measure should be. The two sides were about $700 billion apart after the GOP’s final offer.

Biden “offered his gratitude to her for her efforts and good faith conversations, but expressed his disappointment that, while he was willing to reduce his plan by more than $1 trillion, the Republican group had increased their proposed new investments by only $150 billion,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Tuesday.

The breakdown puts new pressure on a group of bipartisan senators to quickly come up with something that can satisfy Biden’s desires and also garner at least 10 GOP votes. After waiting 10 years to have full control of Washington, there’s no desire in the leadership suites to see another six or more weeks of negotiations after the plodding pace of talks between Biden and Capito.

“It kind of surprised me that this other group decided to try their luck at it. It’s got to be different than Capito,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in an interview. “We’re running out of time. We have seven weeks counting this week until we break in August … we’re running out of opportunities.”

In the White House’s view, Biden came down significantly from his initial spending target of more than $2 trillion. An administration official said Biden never agreed to shift coronavirus relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to pay for infrastructure — a major GOP request. Republicans also never increased the price tag of their offer enough to satisfy Biden, who sought at least $1 trillion in new spending over current infrastructure spending levels.

Republicans, however, argued that they were offering the largest infrastructure proposal their party had ever supported. They had leaned on Biden to take the notable concessions they’d offered.

“While I appreciate President Biden’s willingness to devote so much time and effort to these negotiations, he ultimately chose not to accept the very robust and targeted infrastructure package, and instead, end our discussions,” Capito said in a statement.

Other reviews from the GOP were more harsh. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who had been in Capito’s group, said that Biden was attempting “to satisfy an insatiable far-left agenda that demands massive tax hikes, and spending trillions of dollars on things unrelated to physical infrastructure.”

The focus will now shift to a group of 20 senators, 10 from each party, that convened Tuesday afternoon and have been meeting for months. That effort is being spearheaded by senators including Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio). They have been closing in on a $900 billion infrastructure framework but haven’t yet clinched it.

Psaki said that in addition to Biden’s call with Capito, he also connected with Sinema, Manchin and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), another member of the bipartisan group. The president said he planned to stay in touch with that Senate alliance during his trip to Europe this week.

And Biden talked with Democratic leaders on Tuesday to ensure that his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal maintains some momentum on Capitol Hill, according to Psaki. The president consulted with Speaker Nancy Pelosi about “efforts to move forward on an infrastructure/jobs package in the House this month,” Psaki said, and spoke with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer about a path to getting jobs legislation to that chamber’s floor next month.

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