CHEYENNE — U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., was among a handful of GOP senators who met at the White House on Thursday to discuss President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, and he was encouraged that the president could be willing to scale down his spending package.
“Today’s meeting was a positive step forward,” Barrasso said in a statement to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle late Thursday. “The president understands Senate Republicans will not support tax increases or hundreds of billions of dollars for the Green New Deal, environmental justice or new electric car subsidies. We did all agree that we must prioritize fixing our country’s roads and bridges.”
“The president said his goal is to work with us in a bipartisan way on hard infrastructure and narrowing the scope of the bill. So, I’m encouraged,” he continued. “We’re going to keep working together on a bill that works for rural states like Wyoming and doesn’t raise taxes.”
Biden’s proposal, which was unveiled at the end of March, calls for an upgrade to 20,000 miles of highways, roads and main streets nationwide, as well as the reconstruction of the 10 most economically significant bridges in the country and 10,000 smaller bridges in poor condition. Known as the American Jobs Plan, it also earmarks billions of dollars for upgrades to public transit and housing units, improved access to long-term elderly care, and investments in manufacturing and broadband.
The plan would largely be funded by increasing the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent – still below the 35-percent rate it was at through much of the last two-plus decades – and by deterring corporations from avoiding tax payments through profit-shifting to other countries. So far, Republicans in Congress have been uninterested in raising any taxes, and many, including Barrasso, have criticized the proposal for spending on items not considered to be infrastructure.
Barrasso, who initially condemned the plan as “an out-of-control, socialist spending spree,” was among several GOP senators who unveiled a $568 billion counterproposal, one more narrowly focused on “core” infrastructure items like roads and bridges, broadband, airports, waterways, rails, ports and public transit.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was among those in attendance at the White House meeting Thursday, along with several GOP senators, Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
It is unclear whether Barrasso and his Republican colleagues would be willing to agree to a higher spending level in a package, as well as how much sway the GOP minority will have in a final agreement. A key person involved in negotiations is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a moderate Democrat in the tied Senate who has stated his desire for a bipartisan agreement to be reached on an infrastructure package. In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” earlier this month, Barrasso said he had been working closely with Manchin, “and we’re focusing on core infrastructure.”
“I actually believe there’s a deal to be had if we leave things out like the Green New Deal and recyclable cafeteria trays and climate justice, because $500 billion to $600 billion of infrastructure is a massive amount of infrastructure,” Barrasso said.
Barrasso and his colleagues are using his 2019 infrastructure bill, which includes several Wyoming-specific provisions, as a basis for their proposal. The senator has been in close contact with officials with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which faces annually unmet needs worth more than $300 million, regarding the latest infrastructure package, according to a spokesperson for Barrasso.
One of Wyoming’s other two delegates, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., has also been critical of the spending level in Biden’s initial infrastructure plan. In a recent interview with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, the newly elected senator noted her concerns about overheating the economy, and she was uncertain of what a final infrastructure package might look like.
“I’m anticipating that they will move with a much larger proposal in the House, because (Speaker) Nancy Pelosi has a complete lock on her membership in the House, but in the Senate, it’s a different story,” Lummis said, noting Manchin has been uncomfortable with the level of spending proposed by the Biden administration.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., echoed some of those concerns in a press call Thursday, arguing the proposal spends too much on items not focused on infrastructure. The congresswoman also said she was “very concerned” about the potential risks of inflation.
“You had Larry Summers, a Democratic economist, begin to issue a warning about that, and we are starting to see, over the course of the last week or so, evidence that, in fact, we are headed down an inflationary path, which is really dangerous for the economy, dangerous for people in terms of the money that they’ve earned and they’ve worked so hard for,” Cheney said. “And so fighting against the reckless spending, fighting against the tax increases, will all be a priority of mine.”
Summers, who served as U.S. Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, has issued warnings about too much federal spending over the last week, after the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported increases to its inflationary measures for the month of April.
“Policymakers at the Fed and in the (White House) need to recognize that the risk of a Vietnam inflation scenario is now greater than the deflation risks on which they were originally focused,” Summers told CNN this week. “Whatever was the case a few months ago, it should now be clear that overheating – not excess slack – is the dominant economic risk facing the U.S. over the next year or two.”
Biden’s infrastructure plan is one of three major spending proposals rolled out by his administration since January. The only one passed so far has been the American Rescue Plan, a stimulus package that brings just under $1.1 billion to Wyoming in relief funds and was opposed by all three of the state’s federal delegates.