Biden walks tightrope in talks on $2 trillion infrastructure bill

Washington (AFP) –


President Joe Biden holds a rare meeting Monday with opposition Republican lawmakers, as well as Democratic allies, to push his more than $2 trillion infrastructure bill -- a daring bid to rebuild the United States and cement his place in history.

The White House meeting between Biden and eight members of Congress is being stage managed to show that the new president has made good on his promise to end the divisiveness that turned Washington into a permanent dog fight under Donald Trump.

Four senators and four members of the House of Representatives were invited -- half of them from each party.

Biden so far has zero support from Republican lawmakers for his giant spending plan, which would pour money into everything from reconstructing the ragged highway system to bringing broadband internet to farming communities.

To pay for this, Biden is proposing a jump in the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent.

What a senior Biden administration official called "a bold once-in-a-generation investment in America" is a must win for a president who has surprised many with his appetite for going big.

Consciously modeling himself on Franklin Roosevelt, or FDR, and his 1930s New Deal program to lift the United States out of the Depression, Biden wants to transform post-Covid America.

Rather than a traditional infrastructure package focusing exclusively on the obvious targets like roads and bridges, Biden wants funds to flood into green technology, schools and every other aspect of the wider economy in a bid to "own the future."

"America's no longer the leader of the world because we're not investing," Biden said last week.

Polls show broad support from voters for the idea, even if members of Congress are opposed.

Republicans, stung at the way the Democrats forced a $1.9 trillion economic relief bill through Congress in March, say the corporate tax increase will hammer US competitiveness.

"The Biden Admin's 'infrastructure' framework is a dead-end street toward helping our communities w/their infrastructure needs," Republican Senator Joni Ernst tweeted. "The president needs to do a U-turn, because his current plan is going to give taxpayers nothing but higher taxes and road rage."

Biden said he is "wide open" to negotiating on all aspects, including the extent of the tax hike.

- Biden listening? -

However, the White House insists there can be no fundamental reduction in the make-up of the package, rejecting Republican complaints that it contains too many leftist pet projects, as opposed to real infrastructure goals.

"We will not be open to doing nothing. Inaction is simply not an option," Biden said.

The White House warns that if Republicans don't come aboard, the Democrats will try to pass the mega-bill alone, using a special budget process that allows them to get around the fact that they have only the thinnest of majorities in Congress.

Even this, however, is uncertain. The Democrats would need every one of their senators to hold firm and already at least one -- Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia -- says he opposes the 28 percent tax rate.

Republicans have characterized Biden as paying only lip service to the idea of bipartisanship, while planning to ram the package through anyway.

Psaki insisted that Biden had already proven his goodwill.

"You don't use the president of the United States' time, multiple times over... if you did not want to authentically hear from the members attending about their ideas about how to move forward this package," she told reporters.