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Biden starts infrastructure push by meeting bipartisan group of lawmakers who could help shape $2 trillion proposal

The lawmakers in Monday’s meeting are not the names usually associated with Oval Office meetings on major legislative initiatives — no members of congressional leadership or high-profile moderates are on the invite list. Instead the guest list is made up of lawmakers from both parties who have a history of working on infrastructure and sit on the committees that will shape the proposal as it moves through Congress.

White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein said Monday morning on CNN’s “New Day” that the lawmakers chosen for the first meeting “have a long history of sitting on committees that oversee investments that they themselves have long said need to be made,” pointing to the electrical grid, water infrastructure, and broadband access.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with four Republicans and four Democrats on Monday afternoon. Among them are Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; and her Republican counterpart on the committee, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Also in the meeting will be Democratic Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, who both sit on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. GOP Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California, Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who also all sit on committees relevant to the key parts of Biden’s proposal to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, will also be in attendance.

Notably missing from the meeting are moderates Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska or Susan Collins of Maine. The Democratic Manchin and Murkowski and Collins — both Republicans — are key figures in the Senate who sometimes act as swing votes on legislation. Manchin has pushed the White House to get more Republican support and has suggested he opposes using the reconciliation process to pass the package without GOP votes.
The meeting will be the first time Biden sits down with lawmakers to discuss his proposal, which has been met with resistance by some lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill. The President unveiled his plan last month and it’s aimed at improving the nation’s infrastructure and shifting to greener energy over the next eight years.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the President is willing to negotiate on the scope and price tag of the proposal as well as how to pay for it.

Psaki said Biden wants to “authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas about how to move forward this package in a bipartisan manner.”

“His objective is to find a way forward where we can modernize our nation’s infrastructure so we can compete with China,” Psaki said.

Biden has touted his package as a “once-in-a-generation investment in America.” It invests in manufacturing, transportation, research and development, bolstering caregiving for aging and disabled Americans and building new public schools and upgrading existing buildings.

But, some Republicans on the Hill are balking at the proposal’s price tag and take issue with its broad definition of infrastructure and a proposed corporate tax hike. Democrats also remain divided over details of the proposal and the best way to shepherd it through both chambers.

Biden has said he is open to compromise on how to pay for his plan. His proposal currently includes raising the corporate income tax rate to 28%, up from 21%, which would fulfill one of the President’s core campaign promises. The rate had been as high as 35% before former President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans cut taxes in 2017.

The President has warned that inaction on the country’s infrastructure is not an option, suggesting if he doesn’t garner the necessary bipartisan support he could attempt to move forward with the same process that allowed him to pass his sweeping $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package without any Republican votes.

Democrats are weighing using the same budget reconciliation process to pass the infrastructure proposal, which would only require a simple majority instead of 60 votes in the Senate. Democrats have very narrow margins in both the House and Senate, which makes every vote within their own party essential.

Biden has assigned five Cabinet secretaries to serve as his messengers in working with Congress and engaging with the public on the administration’s infrastructure proposal. The five secretaries he appointed as his infrastructure emissaries are Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan is the first of a two-part proposal to help the nation’s economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic. The other is expected to be a set of investments aimed at helping American workers and boosting education.

CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.



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