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Senate Republicans, White House Continue Infrastructure Negotiations


Might be the weekend, but in Washington, D.C., it's still infrastructure week. Did you see the parades? President Biden and West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito have been trading proposals on a bill to promote jobs and boost the economy. But it comes as no surprise they're not exactly close to an agreement. The president initially proposed more than $2 trillion of investment to roads, bridges, broadband, the electric grid and other interests. Republicans want a smaller and much more targeted proposal. Once they've decided on what should be in the bill, there's still the matter of who would pay for it. NPR's congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is following the talks. Kelsey, thanks so much for being with us.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: President Biden and Senator Capito have spent a lot of time meeting. Does that indicate anything in particular?

SNELL: Well, they have made some concessions this week, which, you know, generally tells us that there's an actual negotiation going on and not just some kind of veneer of trying. Early in the week, Biden offered to drop his plan to increase the top corporate tax rate to pay for the plan. Instead, he said that they could add a 15% minimum tax on corporations. The White House says Capita returned with an offer to add $50 billion to the existing GOP offer, which was at $928 billion going into this week. But it sounds like Biden wasn't really moved by that addition. A statement from the White House says that Biden indicated that the current offer did not meet his objectives to grow the economy, tackle the climate crisis and create new jobs.

SIMON: Kelsey, initially, the White House said they could come to an agreement by Monday. Is that an actual Monday or a Washington Monday, meaning later in the week?

SNELL: It seems like it's a Washington Monday right now because they're meeting again. And oftentimes, when a meeting like this happens, both sides have to go back. They have to consider. So this does feel like a fairly soft deadline. That said, there will eventually have to be real deadlines and probably pretty soon if they want to meet the goal of getting a bill on the Senate floor in July, which does feel like a much more firm deadline.

SIMON: How to pay for any deal continues to be a major point of contention. What do we know about some of the latest ideas?

SNELL: I would say that, you know, this question is really becoming one of the biggest questions in all of these negotiations. And remember, we're talking about a negotiation that involves two sides that are hundreds of billions of dollars apart on the sides. So for the pay-fors to be this big of a deal indicates that it is a significant mountain. Biden keeps offering tax-related changes. And Republicans keep saying, well, instead of changing the tax code, why don't you tap the coronavirus funds that haven't been spent and spend them on infrastructure? But that raises alarm bells for Democrats who say that the pandemic isn't over. And the funds that Republicans want to use are virtually all already assigned to be spent on other things. It also drags these bipartisan talks on infrastructure into big political divides around the country on the COVID response and, in particular, federal money for state and local governments and federal unemployment benefits that Republicans have specifically said they plan to target to pay for infrastructure.

SIMON: Kelsey, how do Democrats feel about the president spending so much time with Republicans?

SNELL: More and more of them are growing frustrated, and more and more of them are ready to move on. It is a single-digit majority in the House, and it is an even split in the Senate. So Biden cannot alienate many of his own allies if he wants to get a bill through both chambers.

SIMON: NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.