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Biden's American Jobs Plan can't afford to get any smaller

The highest real GOP Senate offer was only 15 percent of Biden's original price tag.
Photo illustration: A hand holding out a miniature model of a bridge.
Biden has already cut his original infrastructure plan in half — and then some.Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

It's been a little over two months since President Joe Biden unveiled his American Jobs Plan. It was a $2.25 trillion proposal to shore up America's crumbling infrastructure while investing in critical areas like affordable housing and upgrading child care facilities.

Since Biden's initial announcement, we've heard a little about what the plan would do and a lot about how Republicans don't like it. Negotiations with a group of Senate Republicans led by Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia officially collapsed Tuesday ahead of the president's trip to Europe. I still think an infrastructure bill will eventually pass — but how long will it take to reach a deal that gets past a Republican blockade, and at what cost?

That concern feels valid when you look at how the plan's price tag has evolved during negotiations. Let's look at the various offers, both in terms of total topline cost and as percentages of the cost of the original version of the American Jobs Plan. By the time the talks collapsed, Biden was pitching a plan with a price tag that's 56 percent smaller than the original:

The Senate counters are certainly lower — but maybe not that far apart from the White House? Wrong. The GOP's offers included a lot of money that Congress was already going to spend, or they would have reauthorized older appropriations. When you look at the new spending in the GOP's offers, the gaps are much starker. In the end, the GOP offered to support only 15 percent of the American Jobs Plan's original cost:

So we can take away two things from this progression. First, there's no way the White House could have — or should have — accepted any of these Republican bids. A White House official told NBC News that the administration viewed Capito as an honest broker, not just someone trying to block the Democrats from getting a win. But the paltry offers on the table suggest otherwise.

In the end, the GOP offered to support only 15 percent of the American Jobs Plan’s original cost.

Second, it seems Biden has already given away too much, given the lack of GOP support across the board. In return for dropping his initial offer by more than half, the Biden White House got the GOP to come up by a whole 5 percentage points from its original bid. That's not exactly a great return on investment.

The end of official White House negotiations still leaves bipartisan groups in both the House and the Senate working on deals. Eight bipartisan negotiators in the Senate are reportedly close to agreeing on total spending. The next step will be for them to pitch that agreement to a group of 20 moderates. But they, like Biden and Capito, are still trying to hammer out how to pay for any new spending. Biden's current offer focuses on establishing a new minimum tax on corporations and revoking the Trump-era tax cuts for the wealthy; Republicans are against raising any taxes.

In the House, the Problem Solvers Caucus — 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, enough to deny either side a majority in a closely divided chamber — said Tuesday that it had agreed to support $487.2 billion in new spending on physical infrastructure. That's more than the Senate GOP put forward, but it would still cut out most of the more innovative investments in Biden's plan. In total, it's just 21 percent of the original price tag and less than half of Biden's current $1 trillion offer.

Overall, it's getting harder to see whether this amount of slicing will be worthwhile in the end. Yes, some of Biden's initial asks have been moved into other bills, like the Endless Frontier Act, which the Senate passed Tuesday. But that won't be the case for the plan's climate mitigation investments and the jobs they'd provide in areas like clean energy manufacturing. It would also be likely to doom investments in the care economy that would help aging baby boomers.

If Biden's latest proposal can’t get 10 Senate Republican votes, there’s no point in his committing himself to his lowest offer.

And even if the House's and the Senate's moderates reach a deal, it still would need at least 60 votes in the Senate to get past a filibuster. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., reportedly told the GOP members of the bipartisan negotiating group that he didn't think anything much more than what Capito had offered would be able to get through. And that, ultimately, feels like not enough.

That means Biden has a choice to make. If his latest proposal can't get 10 Senate Republican votes, there's no point in his committing himself to his lowest offer. Instead, he needs to hit the reset button as he begins to craft a plan that can win over all 50 Senate Democrats. From there, the focus needs to be on passing as much of the original $2.25 trillion package as he can get through his party's right flank through budget reconciliation, which can skirt a filibuster, and signing it into law. It probably wouldn't be the full amount — but it would have to be better than what the GOP's offering.

Still, I have to say the whole process has been a bit demoralizing, especially given how many people warned that negotiations with the GOP would be a wasted effort. When he announced it, Biden hailed the American Jobs Plan as a "once-in-a-generation investment that we haven't seen since we built the interstate highway system and the space race." If that was the case for the original plan, I'm curious where on that scale the current iteration would lie.