GOP's Lightweight Infrastructure Counteroffer

[ Posted Thursday, April 22nd, 2021 – 15:47 UTC ]

Senate Republicans today released their "framework" document on infrastructure, in response to President Joe Biden's $2.3 trillion proposal. To say the GOP's document is lightweight is somewhat of an understatement, in two distinct ways. First, the Republicans had earlier indicated that they were considering a package somewhere between $600 and $800 billion, but their opening bid doesn't even clear the lower end of that range, coming in at only $568 billion. Second, the bill isn't just lightweight on crucial details, they are, in fact, non-existent. Only the vaguest of language addresses how the bill will be paid for, for instance. The entire document is only two pages long, and even that is overstating its heft, because it is really nothing more than a couple of graphics-heavy slides than an actual legislative proposal.

This document was originally supposed to be released a week ago, but the Republicans apparently couldn't agree among themselves over key portions of the package. So they spent an entire week negotiating with each other, and as a result the bill is smaller and incredibly vague on how the revenue would be raised. And as an opening bid for serious negotiations, it's nothing short of a joke. Republicans are starting by offering less than 25 percent of what Biden is asking for -- a smaller percent than they were willing to give him in their COVID-19 relief bill proposal. More on that in a moment.

Let's examine the details (such as they are) in the Republican "framework" document. Page one has their spending levels itemized into just generalized categories. Here they are, in descending order of what they would get (all figures are in billions of dollars):

  • $299 -- Roads and bridges
  • $65 -- Broadband infrastructure
  • $61 -- Public transport systems
  • $44 -- Airports
  • $35 -- Drinking water and wastewater
  • $20 -- Rail
  • $17 -- Ports and waterways
  • $14 -- Water storage
  • $13 -- Safety

For some unfathomable reason, the figure for broadband infrastructure is the only one listed as: "$65 billion (additional spending)." Perhaps this refers in some way to other money already being spent by the federal government on broadband? Like much in this document, this is not clear.

Page two has more actual words, in bullet-point lists, but they don't say a whole lot. There are two sections that even tangentially refer to how this is all supposed to be paid for. The first is federal funding. According to the GOP framework, "Federal FUNDING Should:"

  • Be fiscally responsible and based on needs
  • Partner with spending from state and local governments
  • Encourage private sector investment and the utilization of financing tools
  • Flow through existing formula programs and proven discretionary programs

The first one is pretty content-neutral. The second one is suspicious -- how much of the total amount they outline on the first page is actually going to be state and local government funding instead of federal funding? None of it? Some of it? This bullet point certainly seems to point to the latter.

The third bullet point is another suspicious one -- how much of the money they're promising is going to somehow magically appear from "private sector investment"? They don't say, but the inclusion of the issue here is suspect, at best. The final bullet point is also somewhat content-neutral, as it seems to be nothing more than Republican buzzwords inserted to assuage some senator or another.

The final bullet list is supposed to itemize how they're going to pay for it all, but falls far short of that goal. Here is the complete list (such as it is) under: "Federal PAY-FORS Should:"

  • Cover the cost of the infrastructure bills to avoid increasing the debt
  • Shore up any infrastructure-related trust fund that is facing a revenue shortfall
  • Ensure that all users of certain types of infrastructure (ex: electric vehicles) are contributing to the generation of revenue
  • Repurpose unused federal spending
  • Preserve the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including extending the cap on the state & local tax deduction and protecting against any corporate or international tax increases

The first one is what used to be (unless we're talking about tax cuts, of course, which the GOP never pays for, since they magically "pay for themselves") standard Republican fiscal responsibility. "No deficit spending" would be another way to put it.

The second one could be read as "boost the federal tax on gasoline," but the Republicans have specifically indicated that that is off the table -- even though a week ago it was being discussed by them in the haggling over this document. So no gas tax hikes, but they want to shore up the highway fund? However will they do that?

Which brings us to the next item. They're going to stick it to electric vehicle owners, assumably with some sort of new federal tax on mileage. How this will be administered is anyone's guess. Perhaps if you own an electric vehicle you'll have to report your annual odometer readings on your income tax form somewhere? It doesn't lay this out, but what's notable is the fact that electric vehicle drivers are the only specific group to be newly taxed in the entire document. What a coincidence that most electric vehicle owners are liberals who care about the environment, eh? So they'll just have to come up with a quick $568 billion to cover the Republican bill, I suppose.

The next item is a sneaky one, because Republicans are already eyeing a "borrow from Peter to pay Paul" scenario where they essentially raid money that has already been appropriated for other causes, and just "repurpose" it for this bill. This would allow them to greatly reduce the amount of new taxes necessary, so I guess the electric car owners won't have to pony up the whole amount, in the end.

And the last item is just a line in the sand for what Republicans won't agree to. No corporate tax increases. No overturning the state and local tax cap passed in the Trump tax cuts, because it only really sticks it to liberals who live in blue states, so it is absolutely delicious for Republicans to contemplate.

As you can see, this is not a serious legislative proposal. They won't even admit how they're going to pay for it, for starters. And offering up less than 25 percent of Biden's ask is just insulting, really.

President Biden had given the GOP senators a deadline -- they had to come up with a legislative proposal before the middle of next month. We'll see if this qualifies, or if the White House demands actual details on paper before even beginning to negotiate. Either way, however, what is apparent is that the infrastructure bill seems destined for passage under budget reconciliation rules, which will only require 51 votes.

This is precisely what happened with the pandemic relief bill. Except in that truncated negotiation, the GOP actually offered a full one-third of what Biden asked for. This time, they're down to a measly one-quarter. How this is supposed to be a more-successful bargaining tactic, I have no idea.

What Biden and the White House are going to very quickly conclude is that the Republicans can't even get as high as $800 billion. And Biden wants $2.3 trillion. In the pandemic relief bill, Biden got exactly the number he asked for precisely because the Republicans would not reasonably negotiate. If you have to pass the bill with only Democratic votes, then why bother watering it down?

This initial GOP offer is an exercise in bad-faith negotiation. It's pretty obvious, on the face of it. There is just no way this group of supposedly-moderate Republicans are ever going to get to any sort of figure the White House will be able to accept. I gamed this out last week, and estimated (from what he said about the COVID-19 bill) that Biden would likely accept something in the range of $1.5 trillion as a compromise point. Perhaps he'd go as low as $1.4 trillion, after the GOP lowballed their opening bid. But Biden likely won't go below that -- and that figure is over twice what the GOP's opening bid is.

The only real question in all of this is what Senator Joe Manchin will do. Will he essentially throw in his lot with the Republicans and demand the Senate pass whatever lightweight bill the GOP can round up 10 votes for? Or will he realize that this truly is a bad-faith effort and reluctantly allow the bill to pass through reconciliation? The answer to this question is going to be critical. In fact, the entire effort might just hinge on it.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


11 Comments on “GOP's Lightweight Infrastructure Counteroffer”

  1. [1] 
    Bleyd wrote:

    The third bullet point in that first section

    "Encourage private sector investment and the utilization of financing tools"

    Sounds an awful lot like the GOP wants to propose some more corporate tax cuts!

  2. [2] 
    John M wrote:

    "Encourage private sector investment and the utilization of financing tools"

    This type of language reminds me of the high speed rail that Brightline is building here in Florida that everyone is touting because it is being built only through a private sector company. Except for the fact that it's NOT:

    1) It doesn't just stop at the major cities, like Miami and West Palm Beach, but at several smaller towns along the way. This makes it more like a commuter rail.

    2) It doesn't avoid railroad crossings with roads or streets. No really high speed rail in the world does that. Even Amtrak eliminated all railroad crossings on it's northeast corridor Acela line years ago in order to increase speed.

    3) They are also relying totally on diesel power. All high speed rail in the rest of the world uses electric power with overhead wiring.

    4) This is what makes the California much criticized high speed rail project really on world class standards, and so expensive. California is building straight track with almost no curves with no railroad / road crossings on brand new track not share with slow lumbering freight trains but dedicated to high speed electric passenger trains only on elevated track on viaducts etc. to avoid hills, valleys and roads and so will be both smooth and level all the way.

  3. [3] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Bleyd [1]

    Re "more corporate tax cuts . ."

    Politicians, foreigners, and ignoramuses all advocate financing the U.S. Federal gov't by means of producer (corporate) taxation: Politicians, because it deceives the voters (about the magnitude of, and about who pays) the taxes, foreigners because it makes U.S. producers less competitive in the global marketplace, and ignoramuses because they are too dumb to comprehend the fact that regardless of where you levy them ALL TAXES are ultimately paid by consumers.

  4. [4] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    CRS on [3]

    Doesn't that go both ways? Everyone is a consumer; everyone is a producer. The question about various tax plans comes down to which consumers will pay how much. Consumer A, who makes five figures 'producing' widgets or widget services for other consumers? Or Consumer B, who makes 8 figures 'producing' capital (aka investing) for companies to consume?

    If you marginally increase taxes on a corporation who actually cannot raise prices infinitely without losing customers, the taxes will get paid by consumers of class B, in the form of smaller dividends.

    Reminders that all taxes are paid by consumers are kind of like reminders that America is not a democracy, it's a republic.

  5. [5] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    John M

    OK, mostly agreed, I get it that everybody who works is a 'producer' (in the sense of being 'producTIVE'), however for purpose of this discussion, (where to levy taxes), it just confuses the issue to define 'producers' thusly, because corporate taxes are paid only by the corporation itself. Nobody suggests levying corporation tax on the employees, only on the collective owners (shareholders), right?

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    i'd have no problem removing taxes from corporations, as long as we also remove the benefits. if it's not a person, it's not a person. that goes for paying taxes, and it also goes for having free speech rights, or engaging in politics. move all those taxes from the fictional people who pay them to the real people who own them. enough of all this fakery, income is income is income, and the more goes into your bank account, the higher percentage of it should be used to fix the roads we all drive on and pay the cops and firefighters who protect us.


  7. [7] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Of course a corporations is not "a person", it is rather a collection of persons, is it not? But, having the right of free association, why should they not have the right of free speech?

  8. [8] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    CRS on [7]:

    That doesn't make sense. Individuals have the right of free association; and they have the right of free speech. But why does the association in itself, rather than the individuals involved, also have a right to free speech? In mid-sentence, you switched from they as a collective for individual investors, to they as a plural for corporations.

    I get that corporations have been allowed to be 'persons' under the law for some reasons but not for others. It's important to maintain the distinction.

    Surely it's arguable, even if it's not the current law, that corporations have no constitutional right to free speech, while their shareholders as individuals of course still do and always will.

  9. [9] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    John M

    I guess I'm inclined to respond to that, why wouldn't everBODY, and everyTHING, have the right to free speech??? What the hell possible reason would there be to deny frees speech right to anybody, individual, big group, little group, whatever? Just seems unamerican.

    Evidently you feel that the fact that corporations can afford more TV ads than can most individuals, so what? Nobody is forced to heed the pleas of the rich guys as to how to vote. Evidently you credit advertising with far more power and influence than I feel is justified.

  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: This initial GOP offer is an exercise in bad-faith negotiation. It's pretty obvious, on the face of it.

    Yes, sir. This "offer" is a dang cartoon containing a round push-pin representing the "I" in "Republican"... tacky.

    There is just no way this group of supposedly-moderate Republicans are ever going to get to any sort of figure the White House will be able to accept.

    The Republican Party we once knew is bereft of ideas, unable to govern, and quite literally represented by a pinhead.

  11. [11] 
    Kick wrote:

    C. R. Stucki

    ... and ignoramuses because they are too dumb to comprehend the fact that regardless of where you levy them ALL TAXES are ultimately paid by consumers.

    And with that nugget, you're undercutting your standard spew regarding income taxes being paid only by "producers." I won't call you an "ignoramus" because you already did that for me. :)

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