Progressives are calling on President Biden to walk away from infrastructure negotiations with Republicans, amping up pressure on the White House to go it alone on a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar tax and spending package.
In a Tuesday letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, dozens of House progressives argued that Democrats should unilaterally pursue the $7 trillion economic agenda that Biden laid out during his presidential campaign "as rapidly as possible, preferably as a single, ambitious package combining physical and social investments hand in hand."
"While bipartisan support is welcome, the pursuit of Republican votes cannot come at the expense of limiting the scope of popular investments," the lawmakers wrote.
Biden has laid out two massive economic proposals – the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan – that make up his "Build Back Better agenda." The measures, which would be paid for by raising taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans, seek to dramatically expand the government-funded social safety net, overhaul the nation's infrastructure and invest billions into green energy and combating climate change.
But Republicans oppose the size and scope of Biden's proposals – which they say are too expensive and stray too far from "traditional" infrastructure – and have resisted any effort to roll back part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. To pay for the plans, Biden has proposed raising the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%, imposing a higher global minimum on U.S. companies' foreign earnings, doubling the capital gains tax rate to 39.6% and hiking the individual income tax rate to 39.6%.
With narrow majorities in the House and Senate, Democrats have the option to bypass Republicans and approve the measure on a party-line basis using a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation – a path that some liberals want to take.
Asked this week whether she believed the Biden administration should continue to pursue bipartisan discussions, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., told Politico: "Absolutely not." Gillibrand said that Democrats should "100%" push through the package usiing budget reconciliation.
"I do not think that the White House should relegate recovery to the judgment of Mitch McConnell, because he will not function in good faith," she said. "So, I just think it's a terrible political misstep."
Still, some moderate Democratic members, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have indicated they want to pursue a bipartisan deal first on a smaller, more targeted infrastructure bill before moving unilaterally to pass a bigger measure. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told FOX Business on Tuesday morning that negotiations are "making steady progress" and said he believes Democrats "should continue to pursue negotiations as long as they are real and substantive."
"If we can get a bill, great," he said. "If we can't, then we will move to what it's going to take to get 50 Democrats."
A group of centrist Republicans countered with a $568 billion proposal last month that focused solely on traditional infrastructure, including roads, ports, bridges, water lines and broadband. But there have been signs that GOP lawmakers are willing to back a bigger measure; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested last week there's an appetite for a package that costs as much as $800 billion. Republicans have not suggested a way to pay for the bill other than increasing the gas tax.
A team of Biden administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Energy Secretary Gina Raimondo, met on Capitol Hill with a group of Republican senators to discuss infrastructure, but the meeting ending without a new counterproposal from the GOP side.
"We still got a ways to go," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., told reporters after the meeting.
The White House has said it would like to see progress on a bill by Memorial Day and has indicated that it wants to send the measure to Biden's desk before the August recess.