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Capito laments end of infrastructure talks with Biden

Democrats support Biden's package

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito expresses disappointment in the collapse of infrastructure negotiations with President Joe Biden. (Screengrab)

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said Thursday that changing goalposts and multiple other talks between the White House and other senators helped bring an end to her infrastructure negotiations with President Joe Biden, while Democrats applauded the president for remaining strong.

Capito, R-W.Va., spoke with West Virginia reporters Thursday afternoon two days after Biden cut off talks with the two-term senator as the two negotiated the details of an infrastructure package after nearly two months of talks and counteroffers.

“The president called me on Tuesday and very respectfully closed the door on our negotiations,” Capito said. “I accept that because I have to, I guess, but I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to reach a consensus. I’m disappointed that the president and his team were moving the goalposts on me.”

Biden started off with a $2.3 trillion price tag for the American Jobs Plan, coming down to a $1.7 trillion plan. Capito and Senate Republicans countered with the Republican Roadmap, an infrastructure package that started at $568 billion. Republicans came up to just short of $1 trillion, but the two sides could not agree on the definition of infrastructure, the amount of new spending, and how to pay for the package.

“We made, I think, a very good-faith effort to narrow the definition of infrastructure, to fund an eight-year plan of very robust … spending and infrastructure, and we were able to pay for it,” Capito said. “Raising taxes on small businesses and individuals is just an untenable way, I think, to pay for an infrastructure package. I knew that I couldn’t get the 20 Republicans — that I was trying to work to have a good coalition — to get this across the Senate floor.”

Another factor that hindered Capito’s negotiations was alternative infrastructure negotiations taking place between the White House and other senators. A 10-member bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, announced a tentative framework for an infrastructure package Thursday. While details were scant, The Hill reported that the framework is close to the $1.25 trillion framework developed by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives.

On top of that, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is working with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, on an infrastructure package. Politico reported Thursday that Sinema has kept the White House informed of her progress. While Capito said she supported the efforts of other lawmakers to come to an infrastructure deal, she also acknowledged those other negotiations made it more difficult on her negotiations which were blessed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

“You can imagine when you’re trying to negotiate one-on-one and somebody tells you that there’s another plan out there that’s more money and more what you want, that had a chilling effect on my ability to really move forward. No doubt,” Capito said.

While Capito was disappointed, some were pleased with Biden for not caving. In a press call put together Thursday morning by Invest in America Action, former Democratic Party leaders, state lawmakers, union representatives, and activists expressed their support for the current version of the American Jobs Plan while decrying what they see as Republican attempts to stonewall.

“I do give Senator Capito credit for at least attempting to try to reach some type of compromise, because clearly there’s a significant majority of the Senate Republicans that just want to obstruct at every turn,” said former Democratic senate president and lieutenant governor Jeff Kessler.

“Lawmakers have to reject another protracted negotiation that drags on for months while millions of Americans remain jobless, our infrastructure crumbles, and our children drink water from lead pipes in their schools,” said Ryan Frankenberry, state director of the West Virginia Working Families Party.

The current version of the Biden American Jobs Plan includes traditional infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, drinking water, broadband, public transportation, etc.) as well as “human infrastructure,” such as funding for home healthcare. The American Jobs Plan would be paid for in part by increasing taxes on people making more than $400,000 per year and rolling back corporate tax rates.

“I hope that folks will recognize and realize that universally across the country and particularly in our state, everyone — Democrat, Republican independent, Mountain Party — agrees that our infrastructure is inadequate,” Kessler continued. “It needs to be fixed, and here’s a golden opportunity to do it and access federal dollars and get it done now without adding the burden of that to taxes that come out of their own paychecks or out of their own wallets when it’s time to pay the piper.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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