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Top White House aides wrapped up a meeting with group of senators Tuesday without producing an infrastructure compromise, as differences on how to pay for a proposed $579 billion in new spending for roads, bridges and other projects continue to bedevil the talks.
Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, Steve Ricchetti, counselor to President Joe Biden, and Louisa Terrell, the White House legislative affairs director, had what White House press secretary Jen Psaki said were “productive” talks at the Capitol with the 10-member Senate group.
Psaki and GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who is one of the lead negotiators, said there likely would be be additional talks on Wednesday, a day before the Senate leaves Washington until mid-July.
Separately, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi plan to meet Wednesday with White House officials, including Deese and Ricchetti, on a strategy for moving forward on Biden’s agenda, according to people familiar with the plans. The Democratic leaders have been laying the groundwork for acting on a bipartisan bill dealing with physical infrastructure, with the rest of the president’s $4 trillion economic agenda following a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation.
The presence of the White House emissaries add urgency to the talks, which have been stuck, in part, on White House opposition to indexing the gasoline tax to inflation and electric vehicle fees. While the White House has suggested the group may meet with Biden this week, so far talks are not far enough along to spur such an invitation from the president.
Portman told reporters there is still work to do. Senators said that they were working to schedule the next meeting around Wednesday’s funeral for former Virginia senator John Warner.
Republican Senator Todd Young of Indiana, a member of a wider bipartisan group of 21 senators supporting the effort, said Biden has an opportunity to help nudge the nascent agreement forward.
“He needs to lean into this package, this bipartisan framework that we’ve got,” Young said Tuesday on MSNBC. “He needs to bless it, and he needs to encourage fellow Democrats to support it. So, if he does that, I believe it’s going to pass in both the House and Senate, the American people will have their infrastructure without an increase in taxes.”
One of the sticking points continues to be coming up with a way to pay for their $579 billion plan. Two of the negotiators, Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said the idea of indexing the motor fuels tax to inflation is all but dead.
The administration has been pushing Biden’s plan to bolster funding for Internal Revenue Service enforcement to collect from tax cheats. The group has proposed limited new revenue from bolstering IRS enforcement but far short of the amount the White House estimates could be recouped in unpaid taxes.
Portman said they also are looking at raising revenue from airwaves sales and fees from major polluters by reinstating superfund taxes.
Biden has proposed reinstating a long-expired tax used to pay for superfund cleanup sites around the nation, and to expand it in a way that would “penalize polluters through tax disincentives,” including the fossil fuel and chemical manufacturing industries, according to the administration’s tax plan.
There are disagreements about how much stricter tax collections would bring in. The U.S. Treasury Department estimated that wealthy taxpayers as a group are hiding billions of dollars of income. The administration estimates that giving the IRS $80 billion more in funding would raise $700 billion in additional revenue over a decade. But not all experts agree with that estimate and Republicans are balking at giving the agency that much extra funding.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that giving the IRS $40 billion — as the bipartisan Senate group has proposed — would yield $103 billion in revenue for a net $63 billion
Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican and another member, said Monday night: “There are a number of payfors that we’ve been able to add to the list and I think we’re going to get there.”
Biden on Monday met separately at the White House with two Democratic moderates, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, on infrastructure, according to a White House official. Both are part of the bipartisan Senate group.
For the rest of Biden’s agenda, Democrats are considering the budget reconciliation process, which requires a simple majority vote, avoiding a Republican filibuster that would take 60 votes to break.
Schumer has developed the two-track strategy in response to competing pressures from Manchin and Sinema for a bipartisan infrastructure deal and to resistance from progressives who want a larger budget package later.
Kansas GOP Senator Jerry Moran told reporters he hopes a bipartisan deal on infrastructure would lead Democrats to abandon any attempt to use the budget process in that way.