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Republicans Make Latest Infrastructure Offer
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Republicans Make Latest Infrastructure Offer

Plus: GOP senators are expected to block the January 6 commission bill today.

Good morning. Both chambers of Congress will be out next week. We’ll be taking Tuesday off from sending this newsletter.

January 6 Vote Expected Today

After some chaos and delays on the Senate floor yesterday, senators are expected to vote on a sweeping research investment and China competition bill sometime Friday. That will be followed by a procedural vote to bring forward the House’s measure to establish an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. 

Republicans have largely rejected the idea of a commission, claiming it would be a purely political exercise. The party is expected to block the bill when it comes up for consideration Friday, in their first filibuster of the Biden presidency.

The bill would create a 10-member commission modeled after the commission that investigated the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The panel would be evenly divided between appointees selected by top Democratic and top Republican congressional leaders. The two sides would have equal subpoena power and would have to finalize their report with findings and recommendations by the end of the year.

Only a handful of Senate Republicans have indicated they’ll support it—not enough to reach the 10 votes Democrats need to overcome the chamber’s threshold for passing the legislation.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski made the case for the commission late Thursday night, telling reporters she spends “a lot of time talking to the really good men and women in the Capitol Hill police. And as far as I’m concerned, the need for this independent commission is as much about them as it is for anything else out here.”

“I think there’s more to be learned. I want to know more,” she added.

Murkowski also condemned Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell for rejecting the commission. 

“To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on January 6, I think we need to look at that critically,” she said. “Is that really what this is about? Is everything just one election cycle after another, or are we going to acknowledge that as a country that is based on these principles of democracy that we hold so dear—and one of those is that we have free and fair elections, and we respect the results of those elections, and we allow for a peaceful transition of power—I kind of want that to endure beyond just one election cycle.”

CBS News’s Alan He shared audio of her remarks if you want to listen to them in full, here.

Latest GOP Infrastructure Proposal

A group of Republican senators unveiled their latest offer for an infrastructure deal yesterday, which would direct $928 billion to physical infrastructure items like roads, bridges, and airports over eight years. 

The GOP proposal is a boost from their initial five-year, $568 billion offer. It would include $257 billion in new spending, with the rest made up of money Congress was already anticipated to spend for reauthorizations of federal infrastructure programs.

“We’re hoping that this moves the ball forward,” West Virginia Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said when announcing the plan. 

Senate Democrats who want to proceed with President Joe Biden’s mammoth economic agenda without Republican support immediately panned the GOP plan as insufficient, comparing the $257 billion in new spending directly to Biden’s latest offer of $1.7 trillion in new spending.

“It’s just not particularly genuine,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. “They refuse to go big.”

And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said on MSNBC that she doesn’t “really think this is a serious counteroffer.”

But Capito argued against an apples-to-apples comparison, given that hundreds of billions of dollars in Biden’s plan are for priorities Republicans don’t consider infrastructure at all. When comparing the amounts the two plans would spend on traditional infrastructure, she said, “I think the gaps are much less.” 

And she has a point. Republicans are offering a bill tightly focused on physical infrastructure that could pass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, not trying to pare down Biden’s sweeping social investments plan into something smaller yet still the same in essence. They’re two totally different approaches. Democrats were never going to fulfill Biden’s most progressive goals in a bipartisan infrastructure package. Whether a deal with Republicans emerges or not, Democrats are likely to ultimately pursue Biden’s more liberal priorities through the budget reconciliation process, which would allow them to circumvent the need for GOP support. 

For now, negotiations with the GOP senators will likely continue until pivotal Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is willing to step away from the talks and proceed on a partisan basis. He’s made clear he wants to work with Republicans on an infrastructure bill. With a 50-50 chamber, Democratic leaders can’t move on to a massive Democratic-only reconciliation bill until Manchin is ready.

The White House’s response to the Republican offer reflected that reality, striking a conciliatory tone and promising to continue to work with the lead GOP negotiators.

“We are grateful for the work of Senator Capito and her colleagues on this proposal,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, describing the boosted offer as “encouraging.”

Biden initially called for a $2.3 trillion package but revised that number down to $1.7 trillion in his negotiations with GOP senators last week. Republicans widely rejected his latest figure, saying it is too expensive and still involves items they don’t think of as traditional infrastructure—including climate change provisions and funding for home health care.

Beyond major disagreements about the scope of a potential package, Republicans and the White House are deeply divided about how to pay for the infrastructure investments. Biden has proposed hiking taxes on corporations, where Republicans have advocated raising user fees, like the fuel tax, to pay for the bill. 

On Thursday, the group of Republican senators made the case for another funding mechanism: They said the bill could be largely financed by repurposing money that was first passed in the Democrats’ sweeping coronavirus relief package earlier this year but hasn’t been spent yet. The senators didn’t offer specifics of which provisions they would repurpose, saying that would have to be part of a broader conversation.

Capito pointed to one potential option—the federal dollars that could go unspent now that more than 20 Republican-led states have moved in recent weeks to cut the $300 per week enhanced unemployment benefits passed in the Democratic coronavirus relief package. Those benefits were initially set to end in September, but Republican state officials have argued they may be contributing to worker shortages and hindering economic growth.

Republicans have raised alarms about the potential for inflation and overheating the economy as the pandemic recedes. They said using money that has already been allocated would help avoid some of those concerns.

“This proposal is fully paid for. It does not need to have any raises in taxes and avoids the big threat to the economy right now, which is inflation,” Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso told reporters. 

Barrasso cited a recent Washington Post opinion piece by Harvard economist Larry Summers, who previously served as Treasury Secretary under former President Bill Clinton, to bolster his argument.

In the article, Summers said inflation fears are legitimate and described the Democratic aid package as “excessive stimulus driven by political considerations.” He argued it is still important to pursue Biden’s public investments goals, though. To avoid overheating and promote sustainable growth, Summers wrote, “infrastructure investments should be financed by reprogramming of Rescue Plan funds, such as those now being used by some states to finance tax cuts.”

The White House has pushed back on the idea of repurposing coronavirus aid money. In her statement, Psaki wrote that the administration is “worried that major cuts in COVID relief funds could imperil pending aid to small businesses, restaurants and rural hospitals using this money to get back on their feet after the crush of the pandemic.”

But some Democratic senators seem open to it. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a close Biden ally who has been involved in the infrastructure talks, said on NPR this week that he believes “in the end, a lot of this infrastructure bill will use some of the previously appropriated funds that went to states.”

“I think we could do this in two parts,” Coons said. “President Biden’s American Jobs Plan asks for $2.3 trillion in investment in a very broad range of needed investments in our country. Republicans are negotiating around a trillion dollars over eight years in more traditional hard infrastructure. We could pass that on a bipartisan basis and then later pass much of the rest of the Biden proposals of the Democrats’ agenda with only Democrats through something called reconciliation and still accomplish most of President Biden’s agenda, if not all of it.”

Progressives are skeptical about that plan. Some say they’re worried moderate Democrats in Congress will be less likely to support a Democratic-only reconciliation bill once a physical infrastructure package has been passed. 

“If your question is should we split it, I’m not terribly comfortable with that, because—I’m open to persuasion here—but my instinct is the second tranche will be really hard to pass,” Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz told The Dispatch last month.

Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, who has been urging Biden to move quickly on his plans instead of waiting for a deal with Republicans, reiterated that stance on Thursday. “It’s getting close to pulling the plug time,” he said.

The White House isn’t there yet. Biden told reporters Thursday that he’ll meet with the Republican senators leading the talks sometime next week.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.