Biden woos GOP with sweet infrastructure words, but is it progress?

President Joe Biden called a handful of lawmakers to the White House Monday to talk about infrastructure for nearly two hours, the latest phase of his charm offensive, embarked upon as Congress returns from its recess and turns to the chore of grinding out an actual bill.

And even though Biden apparently said the right things during Monday’s bipartisan Oval Office confab, Republican opposition to fundamental aspects of his more than $2 trillion infrastructure proposal is continuing to harden, making substantive compromise look unlikely.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), top Republican of the Senate Commerce Committee, told reporters after the meeting that Biden was “highly engaged” and that the meeting went “well.” Despite that, Wicker said parts of Biden’s infrastructure package are simply not going to fly, particularly the tax increase which he said will be “almost impossible to sell.”

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a high-ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said in an interview that Biden struck the right notes.

“The president came out of the gates saying that he was open to discussing cost and scope and the definition of infrastructure,” Graves said. “Hearing those words was great, it was exactly what I wanted to hear.”

But Graves said that follow-up is the most important thing, a lesson he learned from negotiations over Biden’s Covid bill.

“Let’s talk through what truly is infrastructure, and what the federal government can do better than what they’re doing today,” he said. That echoes what is becoming a party line stance, that Biden’s definition of infrastructure is far too expansive and needs to stick to things like roads and bridges.

According to Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), chairman of the House committee’s rail panel, Biden emphasized in the meeting that he is open to adjusting both the funding source and size of the package, in a nod to Republicans.

“The president made it clear that he’s willing to discuss all of this. He’s really trying to negotiate … Republicans, I think, were surprised at this posture,” Payne told reporters after the meeting, describing Biden as “much more flexible than I was.”

The willingness to flex included the tax hikes targeted as a funding source.

“He’s not necessarily considering a lower [corporate] tax rate but he’s willing to discuss it … I think he’s willing to look at a bit of a smaller package,” Payne said.

Biden promised attendees that he would send staff to their offices as soon as Tuesday to keep talking through the details, according to Graves.

Biden also talked in the meeting about how existing funding mechanisms like the gas tax, which fuels a significant portion of transportation-focused spending, are inadequate.

The White House has swatted down suggestions that he wants to increase the gas tax. An administration official said Biden brought up the gas tax to make the point that even raising it wouldn’t make a dent in the cost of the country’s infrastructure needs.

A Democratic aide with knowledge of the meeting said Republicans “didn’t just come in with a no. there was a willingness to see how we could get this done.” The aide said Biden tried to appeal to Republicans by focusing on global competitiveness.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected the argument that the negotiations are simply a token effort earlier Monday.

“You don’t use the president of the United States’ time, multiple times over, including two bipartisan infrastructure meetings he’s already had or the meeting today, if he did not want to authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas, about how to move forward this package in a bipartisan manner,” Psaki said.

But with Republicans remaining queasy both about the broad definition of infrastructure and using corporate tax hikes as a funding source, it’s clear that so far Biden’s outreach isn’t breaking through.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Democrats are “embarking on an Orwellian campaign to convince everybody that any government policy whatsoever can be labeled ‘infrastructure.'”

The White House also released a set of fact sheets on Monday, rating the existing infrastructure in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and highlighting how Biden’s plan would help each. The fact sheets use grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card, and cite statistics from a wide range of sectors, including transportation infrastructure, broadband, drinking water and housing.

Julia Arciga contributed to this report.

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President Joe Biden called a handful of lawmakers to the White House Monday to talk about infrastructure for nearly two hours, the latest phase of his charm offensive, embarked upon as Congress returns from its recess and turns to the chore of grinding out an actual bill.

And even though Biden apparently said the right things during Monday’s bipartisan Oval Office confab, Republican opposition to fundamental aspects of his more than $2 trillion infrastructure proposal is continuing to harden, making substantive compromise look unlikely.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), top Republican of the Senate Commerce Committee, told reporters after the meeting that Biden was “highly engaged” and that the meeting went “well.” Despite that, Wicker said parts of Biden’s infrastructure package are simply not going to fly, particularly the tax increase which he said will be “almost impossible to sell.”

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), a high-ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said in an interview that Biden struck the right notes.

“The president came out of the gates saying that he was open to discussing cost and scope and the definition of infrastructure,” Graves said. “Hearing those words was great, it was exactly what I wanted to hear.”

But Graves said that follow-up is the most important thing, a lesson he learned from negotiations over Biden’s Covid bill.

“Let’s talk through what truly is infrastructure, and what the federal government can do better than what they’re doing today,” he said. That echoes what is becoming a party line stance, that Biden’s definition of infrastructure is far too expansive and needs to stick to things like roads and bridges.

According to Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), chairman of the House committee’s rail panel, Biden emphasized in the meeting that he is open to adjusting both the funding source and size of the package, in a nod to Republicans.

“The president made it clear that he’s willing to discuss all of this. He’s really trying to negotiate … Republicans, I think, were surprised at this posture,” Payne told reporters after the meeting, describing Biden as “much more flexible than I was.”

The willingness to flex included the tax hikes targeted as a funding source.

“He’s not necessarily considering a lower [corporate] tax rate but he’s willing to discuss it … I think he’s willing to look at a bit of a smaller package,” Payne said.

Biden promised attendees that he would send staff to their offices as soon as Tuesday to keep talking through the details, according to Graves.

Biden also talked in the meeting about how existing funding mechanisms like the gas tax, which fuels a significant portion of transportation-focused spending, are inadequate.

The White House has swatted down suggestions that he wants to increase the gas tax. An administration official said Biden brought up the gas tax to make the point that even raising it wouldn’t make a dent in the cost of the country’s infrastructure needs.

A Democratic aide with knowledge of the meeting said Republicans “didn’t just come in with a no. there was a willingness to see how we could get this done.” The aide said Biden tried to appeal to Republicans by focusing on global competitiveness.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki rejected the argument that the negotiations are simply a token effort earlier Monday.

“You don’t use the president of the United States’ time, multiple times over, including two bipartisan infrastructure meetings he’s already had or the meeting today, if he did not want to authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas, about how to move forward this package in a bipartisan manner,” Psaki said.

But with Republicans remaining queasy both about the broad definition of infrastructure and using corporate tax hikes as a funding source, it’s clear that so far Biden’s outreach isn’t breaking through.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that Democrats are “embarking on an Orwellian campaign to convince everybody that any government policy whatsoever can be labeled ‘infrastructure.'”

The White House also released a set of fact sheets on Monday, rating the existing infrastructure in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and highlighting how Biden’s plan would help each. The fact sheets use grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure report card, and cite statistics from a wide range of sectors, including transportation infrastructure, broadband, drinking water and housing.

Julia Arciga contributed to this report.

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