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Biden and Capito try to chip away at impasse on infrastructure

President Joe Biden smiles as he leaves after speaking about the COVID-19 vaccination program on June 2, 2021, in Washington.
President Joe Biden smiles as he leaves after speaking about the COVID-19 vaccination program, in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Wednesday, June 2, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

President Biden met privately in the Oval Office on Wednesday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), the Republicans’ lead negotiator on infrastructure legislation, as the two sides looked to make progress toward a bipartisan deal.

But they still have a long way to go. Even after last week’s $928-billion proposal from Republicans, there is a huge divide on the size of the package and no progress on how to pay for it.

The meeting, at least part of which was not expected to include even senior aides, appeared to be an effort to build more of a personal rapport than to hash out the specifics of a deal. Shortly before Capito arrived, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters she didn’t “expect this meeting to be an exchange of paper,” saying it would be more of a “discussion.”

Following the sit-down, which lasted about an hour, the White House issued only a short statement, calling the discussion “constructive and frank” and noting that Biden and Capito “agreed to reconnect on Friday.” Biden left the White House shortly after the meeting for his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and did not respond to questions from reporters as he strode across the South Lawn to board Marine One.

In her own statement after the meeting, Capito said she is “encouraged that negotiations have continued” and “reiterated to the president her desire to work together.” She also said she “stressed the progress the Senate has already made.”

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The GOP’s latest package includes only $257 billion in new spending, with the bulk of the investments in road and bridge repairs funded under the plan by existing dollars from Biden’s $1.9-trillion pandemic rescue package.

Biden, whose last offer was for $1.7 trillion in new spending on infrastructure, $500 billion less than his initial proposal, has ruled out diverting the existing funds already earmarked for local governments and small-business relief funds under the March law.

He has proposed raising the corporate tax rate to cover the cost of the new investments, something Republicans have said is a nonstarter.

Despite the lack of apparent progress, neither side is eager to be the one to walk away from the negotiations. For Biden, showing a willingness to meet Republicans in the middle is also about demonstrating a good-faith effort at reaching a deal to Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W. Va.), who has made bipartisan legislation a top priority — and whose vote Biden must secure if and when Democrats attempt to pass legislation using just 50 votes.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last weekend suggested the administration needed to see real progress toward a deal by June 7, but Psaki said there was no concrete timeline. Biden’s 36 years in the Senate, she continued, showed him to be a patient man, but she added: “His patience is not unending, and he wants to make progress.”


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