Biden 'prepared to compromise' on infrastructure, wants Republican proposal by May

US President Joe Biden has opposed user fees, citing his pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than US$400,000. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Joe Biden met on Monday (April 19) with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have all served as governors or mayors, as the White House seeks a deal on his more than US$2 trillion (S$2.66 trillion) jobs and infrastructure proposal.

Mr Biden said he handpicked the group of former state and local leaders with experience as compromise seekers, hoping he can get Democrats and Republicans to agree on an ambitious jobs and infrastructure package. The group included one Republican lawmaker who tried to block Mr Biden's presidential victory.

"I am prepared to compromise and prepared to see what we can do and what we can come together on," Mr Biden said at the outset of the meeting. "I've noticed everybody's for infrastructure. The question is who's going to pay for it."

The meeting included five Democrats - Senators John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and US Representatives Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, Charlie Crist of Florida and Norma Torres of California; four Republicans - Senators John Hoeven of North Dakota and Mitt Romney of Utah and US Representatives Carlos Gimenez of Florida and Kay Granger of Texas; and one independent - Senator Angus King of Maine.

Lawmakers emerged from the meeting optimistic they could reach a deal, but divided over how to fund it and what should be included.

Mr Romney said he favoured making the consumers who use the nation's ports, highways and airports help fund the effort, not relying exclusively on taxing corporations.

"So if we're going to redo an airport, I think it makes sense to look at the people who are flying to pay for the cost over some period of time," he told reporters.

Mr Biden has opposed user fees, citing his pledge not to raise taxes on Americans earning less than US$400,000.

Mr Gimenez, who voted against certifying Mr Biden's election victory, said Republicans made it clear they wanted a narrow Bill that does not raise corporate taxes. He told Reuters Mr Biden asked Republicans to come back with a counterproposal in mid-May.

"There is room for compromise as far as we're concerned, on infrastructure,"Mr Gimenez said. "The difference is: what is the definition of infrastructure?"

Mr Cleaver said he argued that affordable housing should be considered infrastructure. To drive home his point, he showed others a photo of a house he lived in for seven years as a child. "It's shack," he said.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican leading the effort to produce a conceptual framework on infrastructure, said she expects to speak to the White House on Tuesday.

Ms Shaheen, a former governor, emerged from the meeting optimistic. "There is common ground in Congress on these infrastructure priorities - we can and should get this done," she said.

(From left) US President Joe Biden, seated with Senators Angus King and Jeanne Shaheen, speaks during a bi-partisan meeting at the White House in Washington on April 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

It was the second time Mr Biden hosted a bipartisan group of lawmakers to try to craft an infrastructure Bill.

Most US voters support fixing the country's crumbling roads and bridges and asking companies to pay the bill. But Republicans in Congress say Mr Biden's proposal is too big and most of them oppose raising corporate taxes.

Last week, Mr Biden met with eight members of Congress in the Oval Office for nearly two hours to discuss the Bill. Afterward, Republicans indicated little signs of support.

Mr Biden's US$2 trillion-plus American Jobs Plan calls for spending on traditional infrastructure projects like roads and bridges along with addressing climate change and expanding access to home and community-based care.

The eight-year spending plan would be funded by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21 per cent to 28 per cent, while limiting the ability of American companies to avoid taxes by shifting profits overseas.

Representative Mr Crist, a former governor, said Mr Biden felt "pretty strongly" about raising the corporate tax rate to 28 per cent as part of the package.

He said Mr Biden was "a bit skeptical" about scaling back the tax hike, as suggested by some such as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key vote in the Senate given the razor-thin majority his party has there.

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