When President Joe Biden originally unveiled his ambitious infrastructure package, called the American Jobs Plan, it came with a hefty price tag: roughly $2.25 trillion. Polls nevertheless showed fairly broad public support for the proposal.
Congressional Republicans, however, were not among the impressed. GOP leaders acknowledged the importance of domestic infrastructure investments, but their offer was a $568 billion plan. It wasn't long, however, before the fine print came into view and we realized the pitch was actually far smaller than it appeared.
The White House, desperate to govern, tried to keep the process moving in a constructive direction anyway, lowered the topline price tag of Biden's plan to $1.7 trillion, and challenged Republican lawmakers to move in the president's direction.
In recent days, the Capitol Hill chatter said GOP negotiators would unveil a new counter-proposal, which would be in the ballpark of $1 trillion. As the Washington Post reported, that's not quite what happened.
In an attempt to salvage stalled negotiations, Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled a revised counteroffer for infrastructure spending, outlining roughly $928 billion in a package that's still far short of what the White House has proposed. Only about a quarter of the total price tag appears to represent new spending above baseline levels under the "roadmap" put forward by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and her GOP counterparts.
By the White House's accounting, the last Republican offer pointed to roughly $225 billion in new infrastructure investments. The new Republican pitch -- the one that was supposed to up the ante and move the parties closer to some kind of credible compromise -- is $257 billion.
This is not a serious counter-proposal.
What's more, the GOP plan would make these investments over an eight-year period, which means the party is prepared to invest around $32 billion a year in new infrastructure spending over the rest of the decade. That's not even close to the kind of initiative Biden wants Congress to approve.
As for financing, Republicans continue to insist Trump-era tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations are untouchable, so they propose paying for their infrastructure package by redirecting funds currently allocated for COVID relief.
When a group of lawmakers effectively declare that they're not serious about reaching a compromise, perhaps it's best to believe them.
As we discussed yesterday, leaders in both parties had more or less agreed that Memorial Day was a sensible deadline for infrastructure talks. If the White House and Senate Republicans couldn't reach an agreement by May 31, the relevant players would agree that a bipartisan deal on this issue simply wasn't possible, and it would be up to Democrats to pursue their own plan using the budget reconciliation process (a step Democratic leaders have "quietly" started preparing for).
That said, the deadline apparently isn't nearly as firm as it appeared. Politico reported overnight that Democrats are "preparing to wind down talks within a week or possibly two," and if there's no breakthrough, "they will start shifting their focus to what it will take to pass a bill on a party-line vote."
Watch this space.