Senate Republicans proposed a $568bn plan for federal investments in infrastructure on Thursday, far below the $2tn level of spending demanded by US president Joe Biden, highlighting the difficult path to a bipartisan compromise on a new package of economic measures.
The Republican offer is heavily weighted towards traditional infrastructure projects, with $299bn devoted to roads and bridges, $65bn to broadband, $61bn to public transit systems and $44bn to airports.
By contrast, the White House plan seeks broader investments in research and development, manufacturing subsidies and retooling buildings, while devoting much more federal funding towards tackling climate change — a crucial element for many Democrats.
The Republican plan — led by Shelley Moore Capito, the West Virginia senator — does not include any of the corporate tax increases proposed by the White House, suggesting instead that the proposal’s cost should be covered by higher user fees for things such as electric vehicles.
The Republican proposal follows a meeting hosted by Biden with a bipartisan group of lawmakers at the White House, but it may not be enough to jump-start a serious round of negotiations over the text.
Many Democrats and Biden administration officials have already warned that if they did not think a Republican overture matched the country’s needs, they would consider ways to pass their own infrastructure package without support from the opposition, using their slim majorities in both houses of Congress.
However, for such a strategy to succeed, Democratic support would have to be near unanimous. That is expected to be a harder feat with the infrastructure bill than it was for the $1.9tn stimulus plan passed in March.
The debate over the infrastructure legislation is expected to take centre stage on Capitol Hill in the coming months. It marks the second massive spending proposal pushed by Biden after the initial stimulus plan, and is designed to tackle the chronic under-investment in public goods that has held back the US economy in recent decades in the view of White House officials.
Biden is also expected to announce a third big spending plan worth more than $1tn as early as next week, which would focus on child care and education and be funded by tax increases on wealthy individuals.
As they announced their infrastructure plan, Republicans urged the White House to consider it.
“This is a serious attempt to offer . . . the most robust plan that we put forward ever as Republicans,” Capito told reporters on Thursday. “And I think that the American people want to see us working together.”
But Democrats on Capitol Hill were already moving to dismiss it. Ron Wyden, the chair of the Senate finance committee, and Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania senator, said it would “shift the tax burden of infrastructure investment from corporations to the middle class”.