log in

Biden to Meet With Lawmakers On Infrastructure

New York Times - Mon Apr 12 12:43

President Biden’s meeting with lawmakers on Monday is in part an attempt to demonstrate his eagerness for a bipartisan deal. But it is also intended to send a message that he will not wait forever to reach one.
Credit...Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Facing opposition over parts of his sweeping $2 trillion infrastructure proposal from Republicans and even some centrist Democrats, President Biden plans to meet on Monday with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, hoping to make progress toward a deal that can garner enough votes to pass a bitterly divided Congress.

“The president will have an open mind and be interested to hear other ideas on every dimension of the package,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But as he said, doing nothing is not an option and we also can’t wait too long. He’s got an expectation of major progress in Congress by Memorial Day,” at the end of May.

The meeting is an early test of which path Mr. Biden and his allies will ultimately take with the legislation: a bipartisan deal, which the president has said is his preference, or a broader bill pushed through over the objections of Republicans, which Democrats have not ruled out to achieve their priorities.

The group of lawmakers will be made up of four Democrats (Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, Senator Alex Padilla of California, Representative Donald M. Payne Jr. of New Jersey and Representative David E. Price of North Carolina) and four Republicans (Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Representative Garret Graves of Louisiana and Representative Don Young of Alaska).

Mr. Biden’s proposal includes not just spending for highways, bridges and other physical facilities, but also huge new investments in areas that have not traditionally been seen as infrastructure, such as paid leave and child care. Republicans in both chambers have signaled that they are reluctant to support such an expensive and sweeping proposal paid for by tax increases.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said conservatives were happy to make a deal on a bill that defined infrastructure more narrowly — but would oppose a large bill with a broader definition.

“Let’s do an infrastructure bill, if the president wants to do an infrastructure bill,” Mr. Thune said. “The big, bold utopian European-style socialism proposal that they’ve laid out there is something they can try to do another time.”

Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 House Republican, warned Democrats against an overstuffed bill that, she argued, could lead to tax increases and inflation.

“The bill would need to be fundamentally redone,” Ms. Cheney said on “Face the Nation.” “So much of it is unnecessary.”

The White House has signaled that Mr. Biden is willing to try to persuade skeptics of his approach — to a point. Monday’s meeting is in part an attempt to demonstrate the president’s eagerness for a bipartisan deal. But it is also intended to send a message that he will not wait forever to reach one.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, is considering using the fast-track budget reconciliation process for a second time this fiscal year, potentially allowing Democrats to pass Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan with just 51 votes and maneuver around any Republican filibuster attempts.

Appearing on “Face the Nation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she was open to entertaining Republicans’ counterproposals but would oppose their calls to shrink or weaken Mr. Biden’s plans.

“The worst and most expensive maintenance is no maintenance,” Ms. Pelosi said. “We have a big need — to the tune of trillions of dollars.”

Mr. Biden will have at least one major public opportunity to make his case. White House officials said last week that he and Ms. Pelosi are seeking to resolve the timing and logistics involved in the president delivering an address to a joint session of Congress, something that most recent presidents deliver in February or early March. Concerns about the coronavirus have delayed the speech.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Friday that when Mr. Biden delivered the speech, he would use it to persuade lawmakers and the American public on the merits of his infrastructure plan, the tax increases associated with it and other parts of his agenda.

“I promise you we will have something to sell in the speech,” she said, “and we will use it for that opportunity.”

Ken Frazier, the Merck chief executive, has called on corporate executives to publicly state their support for broader ballot access.
Credit...Mike Cohen for The New York Times

More than 100 corporate leaders held a conference call over the weekend to discuss what they should do, if anything, to shape the debate around restrictive voting laws under discussion across the United States. Snap polls during the call suggested that most of the participants favor doing something, though what that would be isn’t yet clear, the DealBook newsletter reports.

The voting-rights debate is fraught for companies, putting them at the center of an increasingly heated partisan battle. Ken Chenault, the former American Express chief, and Ken Frazier, the Merck chief executive, urged the executives on the call to publicly state their support for broader ballot access. The two had gathered 70 fellow Black leaders to sign a letter last month calling on companies to fight bills that restrict voting rights, like the one that recently passed in Georgia.

A survey this month of 1,221 Americans shows support for companies wading into politics. The data, provided by the market research firm Morning Consult, was presented to the business leaders on the call, which was convened by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale. Here are some highlights:

  • Fifty-seven percent of Americans think companies should cut back on donations to elected officials who are working to limit voting rights. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said that the government should ensure equitable access to voting locations.

  • More than half of Americans said they were more likely to buy from companies that promote certain social causes, including racial equality and civil rights, although support among Democrats was stronger than among Republicans on many of these issues. Among the handful of issues that would make Republicans less likely to buy from a company were support for the Black Lives Matter movement, abortion rights, stricter gun control and L.G.B.T. rights.

In a separate survey of 2,200 Americans by Morning Consult, 62 percent of “avid” fans said they supported Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Georgia in response to the state’s new voting restrictions. Support was lower among all adults (39 percent), but if the league was worried about the effect on its most dedicated fans, this is an important finding.

Workers repaving a street in San Francisco last week. Officials have outlined preliminary details for President Biden’s infrastructure plan, including $115 billion to repair and build roads and bridges.
Credit...Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Members of Congress have begun a frenzy of lobbying to ensure that their pet projects and policy priorities are included in President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, eager to shape what could be one of the most substantial public works investments in a generation.

Officials across the country are dusting off lists of construction projects and social programs, hoping to secure their piece of a plan aimed at addressing what the administration estimates is at least $1 trillion worth of backlogged infrastructure improvements, as well as longstanding economic and racial inequities.

Senior lawmakers have started collecting lists of requests from their colleagues for what should be included in the bill, while top White House officials are fielding a torrent of calls from rank-and-file lawmakers, all of whom have their own ideas.

“My phone is blowing up,” Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, said in an interview. Nearly every lawmaker “can point to a road or a bridge or an airport” in his or her district that is in dire need of repair.

Representative Mikie Sherrill, Democrat of New Jersey, wants to tackle the Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, has suggested that surely the “functionally obsolete” Brent Spence Bridge in his state should receive funding. And progressive lawmakers have a five-part wish list that includes lowering drug costs and providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers.

Mr. Biden and Democrats have repeatedly challenged Republicans to engage in bipartisan negotiations. By incorporating Republicans’ proposals, including individual projects for their districts and states, Democrats hope to increase the political risks of voting against the bill. Some Republicans are already facing criticism for celebrating funding in the nearly $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package they unanimously opposed.