May 27, 2021
Senate Republicans Infrastructure Plan Press Conference Transcript May 27
Republican Senators held a press conference on May 27, 2021 to discuss negotiations on Biden’s infrastructure plan. Read the transcript of the news briefing here.
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Senator Capito: (00:00)
Thanks, Dave. [inaudible 00:00:02]. Well, good morning, and I want to thank everybody for being here. I would like to thank my colleagues, Senator Blunt, Barrasso, Senator Toomey, and they’re here with us today, Senator Crapo and Senator Wicker we’re unable to join, but they’re here in spirit. So I am sorry they’re not here, but they have emboldened us to speak in their stead.
Senator Capito: (00:30)
So where are we? Senate Republicans continue to negotiate in good faith. We’ve had a lot of good dialogue with the White House. We’re trying to get to that common goal of reaching a bipartisan infrastructure agreement that we talked about in the Oval Office with the president several weeks ago, and I talked with him even previous to that. We believe that this counter offer delivers on what President Biden told us in the Oval Office that day. And that is, to try to reach somewhere near a trillion dollars over an eight year period of time that would include our baseline spending. We have achieved that goal with this counteroffer, but we’ve also, I think, done something that has stayed true to what our beliefs are when we very first started this endeavor, and that is sticking to the core physical infrastructure. What is the definition of infrastructure? And we have stayed within the boundaries of our original plan, I think that’s what the American people think of when they think of infrastructure and that’s certainly what we do too.
Senator Capito: (01:40)
But there’s a couple bits of good news, I think that have happened since we had that meeting with the president. Number one, we passed a bi-partisan water infrastructure package of $35 billion out of my EPW Committee Senate with Chairman Carper, bi-partisan. We got an 89 to two or 88 to two vote on the Senate floor on that piece of legislation. That’s one of the pieces that the president had, and we have a like agreement on in terms of physical infrastructure.
Senator Capito: (02:08)
The other thing is yesterday, we passed a $316 trillion five year surface transportation bill. It has a lot of things that the president wants in there, resiliency, roads and bridges, we have connecting communities in there and we also have EV charging infrastructure piece in there, so that passed out of our committee 20 to nothing. We are now working on the floor right now, and as you all know on Endless Frontier. Endless Frontier is a bipartisan… It came out of commerce committee, I’m on commerce, bi-partisan. That was part of what the President initially asked us to look at as infrastructure. We don’t consider that physical infrastructure, but we do think it’s part of the package that the President should be able to distinguish as part of his infrastructure.
Senator Capito: (03:03)
So what we are looking at today is a $928 billion package over eight years, it sticks to the core infrastructure features that we talked to initially, it’s a serious effort to try to reach a bipartisan agreement. The President said to me and us in February, that he was really agnostic as to whether we pass a bunch of small bills or one large bill, and we’ve heard him say, “Inaction is not an option for him.” We’ve now passed two of the smaller, and actually the surface transportation hasn’t gone out of the full Senate yet, but it is a major anchor to this piece of legislation. And so I think that shows that there’s a real hunger for bipartisanship in the United States Senate, there’s a real ability to achieve that, and we’re hoping that this moves the ball forward.
Senator Capito: (03:54)
We believe that the alternative, which is a partisan reconciliation process, would be destructive to our future bipartisan attempts, but also doesn’t serve the American public and wouldn’t get us to an infrastructure package such as the one we believe would serve the American interests, but also constrains spending to the areas of core physical infrastructure that is so important to this country. Our infrastructure has been the envy of the world, we want to take that place again. I personally think we still have it, we just want to make it better. So with that, I’m going to turn it over to Senator Toomey.
Senator Toomey: (04:34)
Thanks very much Senator Capito, and thanks for your leadership. It’s been a lot of hard work and we’re all grateful to you for that. I just want to stress a couple of quick points, and one of them is the consistency with which we have communicated how we think about this too President Biden and his team, and that includes this group of senators, it includes Leader McConnell. And that consistency I’m alluding to is the fact that we want to focus on actual infrastructure, the platforms and services that move people and goods and services through our economy, that’s what people understand to be infrastructure, and we can reach an agreement if we focus on those items.
Senator Toomey: (05:15)
The second thing that we’ve been very, very clear on every single time we’ve had a discussion is that we’re not raising taxes. We believe that the 2017 Tax Reform contributed significantly to enabling us to achieve the best economy of my lifetime, and that’s no small thing. And we were not interested in undoing the provisions in the tax reform that allowed us to get there.
Senator Toomey: (05:39)
And then finally, we’ve also observed that there’s a tremendous amount of money that was approved in previous bills, six bills over the course of the last year or so, trillions of dollars and many hundreds of billions have not even been yet. They clearly were not about COVID, they were not about an economic recovery. If you think about it this way, if you look at the offer that we’re putting on the table today in spending, the 928 figure, and you look at the $355 billion which is already in the pipeline, expected to come in the form of revenue for the Highway Trust Fund, there’s a gap that needs to be filled. That gap, call it $575 billion, that’s approximately what it is over this eight year period.
Senator Toomey: (06:27)
Well take a look at this chart, the red bars represent the money from the American Rescue Plan that isn’t even going to be spent by the end of this fiscal year, it’s scheduled to be spent in future years. It’s all different categories, it adds up to about $700 billion, and that’s just one of the several bills that we passed that have these sources of funds that have not been spent yet. We believe that repurposing these funds needs to be a really important part of how we fill this gap. And if the gap is $575 billion, and there’s 700 billion from this bill alone, and we know there are at least tens and probably hundreds of billions of dollars of unspent money from previously passed bills, clearly the resources are there to do this. Thanks very much.
Senator Barrasso: (07:22)
Well, first I want to thank Shelley for your amazing, hard work. You talk about somebody that has patience and persistence, and always doing it in a positive way. Very, very grateful. This is a real offer, this is of substance and significance, what we’re bringing forth today. And it’s what people at home in Wyoming think of as infrastructure. It’s roads with potholes that need to be fixed. It’s waterways and airports and ports that are clogged, you’re worrying about flooding in different water systems. We think about bridges that are aging and what we can do to help those. And this is what President Biden talked with us about in the White House. This proposal is fully paid for, does not need to have any raises in taxes and avoids the big threat to the economy right now which is inflation.
Senator Barrasso: (08:10)
Inflation is the number one threat to our nation right now in our economy. And that’s not just me saying it, it’s Larry Summers, who had a long piece in the Washington Post the other day talking about inflation that is coming and coming faster and to a greater degree than he even thought. And it’s because of all the additional spending that’s going on because of this additional trillions of dollars going into the economy. So when we talk about this 700 billion or repurposing money, there is clearly money that should be spent in ways where the money’s already been committed, it’s not additional borrowing and additional spending.
Senator Barrasso: (08:51)
This is what we talked with the President about. This is what he is asked for from us, and this is something that can actually pass, what we’re proposing today could pass in a bipartisan way. And the old nickname for Joe Biden is middle-class Joe, this is something he would normally, before. And this is something that the middle class of America would say, “Yeah, this makes sense to us.”
Senator Barrasso: (09:15)
On the other hand, you have the Democrats demanding first, six trillion and now $7 trillion in spending for a whole lot of different things. So they may override the president on this, overrule him, and that’s what my concerns are with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. And what is basically socialism camouflaged as infrastructure, which is the direction that they’re heading with massive tax increases which are going to hurt the economy, massive spending, if that’s the direction that they want to go, they can try it, they’re not going to have even a single Republican support for that approach. I would say to President Biden, this is something that will work, it will help the country, it will help us move forward and we would very much recommend to you accepting this, moving ahead with it, endorsing it, and getting this done for the best interest of our nation.
Senator Blunt: (10:12)
Well, Shelley, thanks to you, and what everybody else has suggested, a great job, lots of time, your staff team came together, as all of our staffs did, to try to work out an offer here that we think is well within the framework of the meeting we had with the President. I will say that the best meeting we had on this topic was with the President who I think would like to see a bi-partisan solution here and who certainly understands the dynamics of deciding you’re going to come together and get something done. I think that can happen, I hope it does happen, we’ll see how they respond. In terms of pay [inaudible 00:10:51], there are other things that we’re willing to put on the table and we’ll see if they are. People who drive non gas powered vehicles should actually pay something to use the highway like everybody else does, and no better time than right now to start that.
Senator Blunt: (11:06)
We’re prepared to look at lots of things, but infrastructure has been seen as one of the obligations of the federal government for a long time, particularly roads, bridges, highways, and canals were right among the first things that the early congresses started talking about and started doing. Our view of infrastructure has been that if we would just look at any definition of infrastructure, that frankly, the group of reporters assembled in this room, if you’d have been asked six months ago, write down your definition of infrastructure, it would be the same definition that we’re pursuing right now. The connectedness above the ground and under the ground, airports, ports, roads, bridges, highways, all of those things are in our package, and a number of other things. Broadband would not have met the early congressional definition of infrastructure, of course, or even a definition 40 years ago, but it fits well within the connectedness aspect of what Americans would think infrastructure should be.
Senator Blunt: (12:14)
Now infrastructure is and has always been important. It’s also popular, it’s popular with Republicans in the Congress, it’s popular with the American people. I certainly don’t blame the President for saying, “Let’s take a topic…” Or his administration, “Let’s take a topic that everybody is for infrastructure, and let’s just call everything infrastructure.” The caring infrastructure, the manufacturing infrastructure, I understand why you’d want to do that, but we’re not going to get a bipartisan agreement that way. And who knows, they have to decide, do they want to do something with 50 Democrats and the vice president or do they want to do a substantial part of that package in a bipartisan way?
Senator Blunt: (13:04)
Now, the president was very upfront in our meeting with him. “If we do divide this up…” He said, “I’ll try to get the rest of it some other way.” And we totally understand that. As a matter of fact, we don’t mind debating the things in the other bill and see if that’s what the American people want to do, but let’s not do it under the guise of infrastructure. So from the very start, our guidelines were, no changes in the 2017 tax bill, every Republican in the Senate today that was here in 2017, voted for that bill. I think every Republican would argue that it had the economy headed dramatically in a good direction as we got into COVID. And the other guideline was, let’s do infrastructure in the way that infrastructure has been generally understood.
Senator Blunt: (13:57)
I think one of the problems we’ve had in the Congress the last several years is we let too many things wrap themselves up in one big bill, whether it’s at the end of the Congress or some other time, we shouldn’t let that happen here. It’s not good legislation. It doesn’t produce the best results. The people that we work for, for good reasons, don’t have any idea of what we’re passing when we pass that big bill at the end of every Congress that now has become way too much of the pattern. Let’s not continue that with everything else we can think of. So, the [inaudible 00:14:34] can include lots of things that we’re talking to them about, and one of the major ones would be repurposing money that just didn’t get used.
Senator Blunt: (14:44)
Senator Toomey mentioned this money in the bill that passed this year, there’s a lot of COVID specific money in the other five bills that we just didn’t need to spend for what we thought we’d need to spend it for. We spent a year guessing, and frankly, I think the Congress guessed pretty well, and probably the story of five bipartisan bills when we needed them hasn’t been told as vividly as it should have been told. Some of the things we put in those bills work really well, like the Paycheck Protection Plan. Some of them like loans for companies that had more than 400 employees worked barely at all. Many of the columns on how much we’d need for this and how much we’d need for that, just simply didn’t get used up. Better to use that money for something we all want to do then have it set around there for somebody else’s pet project at sometime in the future.
Senator Blunt: (15:41)
So again, thanks to my colleagues. I think we’ve had good discussions with the administration. Hopefully we’ll find out today that those discussions were all in good faith and that they want to talk further about how we pay for the 900 plus billion dollar package that we’re offering. By the way, any of these numbers, 500 billion, 600 billion, 900 billion, any of these numbers would be the biggest infrastructure bill ever put on a president’s desk by a Congress. Surely we can figure out how that’s a win, not a place to turn around and everybody go home.
Senator Capito: (16:24)
So we have time for just a couple of questions. Yeah.
Speaker 5: (16:27)
[inaudible 00:16:27] Endless Frontiers money, does this 9 to 28 billion include that 150 billion [crosstalk 00:16:33]-
Senator Capito: (16:33)
Speaker 5: (16:34)
So it would be additional [crosstalk 00:16:35] on the table.
Senator Capito: (16:36)
Speaker 5: (16:36)
And what do you have to say about the White House yesterday sort of refining the idea that there is this $700 billion somewhere? They said 95% of it’s already spent.
Senator Capito: (16:47)
Pat, you might want to talk about that because you were telling us again.
Senator Toomey: (16:52)
If the White House is saying that that money’s been spent then they need to show us that. OMB needs to produce those numbers, we have not seen the numbers that suggest that. And CVO was pretty adamant that much of this money couldn’t be spent, it just wasn’t physically possible to get it out the door. We also think there’s a lot of money from the previous five bills that has not yet been spent. So we do believe that this money is available, if they’ve got a different theory, they need to show us the numbers.
Senator Capito: (17:19)
And I would just use as an example, the 23 states that have said they’re not going to take enhance unemployment, now there may be some way they’re calculating that, but certainly those dollars are not going to be spent. We know that because our states have said, it’s time for people to get back to work and it’s been a deterrent in a lot of states for people to get back to work. Yes.
Speaker 6: (17:44)
You guys have laid out the nine to 28 billion top line. But roughly 257 billion of that is new spending, so [inaudible 00:17:53] the 257, with the 1.7 trillion from the White House, is that a gap that can be bridged?
Senator Capito: (18:00)
Okay, so when you’re looking at the 1.7 trillion from the White House, what are you looking at? You’re looking at 400 billion for the caring economy, you’re looking at, I believe, 100 billion for EV vouchers, which we zero out. We don’t think this is the place for that. So you can get down pretty quick if you start looking at some of the… VA hospitals, schools, housing, some of those are big numbers in the President’s initial proposal, and we don’t agree that that’s physical infrastructure. So it is not a 1.7, 200, I’ve been trying to explain this the whole time and it is kind of getting missed a little bit. So I think the gaps are much less, but the important thing here is that the President’s desire and our desire to do something together, that’s traditionally been handled by the Congress and the White House for years together on an important issue, like Roy said, that impacts every single person. So one more question, Garret.
Is it fair to say that the possibility of getting a compromise still ultimately depends on you guys agreeing on a definition of what this is? And that seems like that’s still the big question.
Senator Capito: (19:18)
I mean, I would say that is, probably the big question is the scope. And we haven’t been satisfied, I don’t think, with the way the White House’s response on when our first initial ask on narrowing the scope. What they did was took out their R&D manufacturing segment of about 500, but remember, in that, the R&D portion is the Endless Frontier Bill.
Senator Capito: (19:54)
Can I ask a follow-up? This money from the American Rescue Plan, that is congressional Democrats and the White House’s biggest accomplishment since they’ve come into office, what makes you think they’d be willing to take money out of their own pockets that they have all voted for to do this instead?
Senator Toomey: (20:11)
So, many of us think that the biggest accomplishment of a Republican Congress in recent years was the Tax Reform of 2017, what makes them think we want to undo the tax reform that gave us the best economy of my lifetime? Look, we passed many trillions of dollars, and as Senator Blunt pointed out, we did the best we could estimating what we thought we might need on a completely uncertain environment. It turns out, in many categories we needed much, much less than we thought, and we don’t think all of these categories actually have anything, many of them have nothing to do with COVID, have nothing to do with an economic recovery. So we do think this is really an important source of funding this.
Speaker 8: (20:53)
Senator, you’re not necessarily saying this is where all of that money comes from, it’s just an example of money that’s been spent? Or are you saying, let’s take the 83 billion from pensions and put that to [crosstalk 00:21:03]?
Senator Toomey: (21:02)
This is meant to illustrate the fact that there is a tremendous amount of money that is available to be repurposed, and we could have that… We need about $575 billion, there’s 700 right here, there’s probably hundreds of billions from previous bills. That’s more than we need, and we could have a conversation about which items would be repurposed for infrastructure.
Senator Blunt: (21:23)
And the Trump administration actually reported monthly as those previous bills all required. This bill doesn’t have quite the same language in it. It didn’t pass like appropriators would pass a bill which said, you’ve got to be accountable to us all the time… That they’re being spent down, unless they’re being spent down for other purposes than what they were appropriated for. Those bills also had a much tighter transfer control in them than this bill does. And by the way, they’re re-purposing money out of this bill right now for unaccompanied children, to the tune of like 2.3 billion. So the idea that, well, we’d never want to repurpose money, and again, we’ll mention the Secretary of the Treasury from the Obama/Biden administration says, “If you don’t want to fuel inflation further, but you do want to do a good thing like infrastructure, look for money that you’ve already appropriated, but is not being spent or could be spent for what everybody may agree is now a better and more needed purpose.”
Speaker 9: (22:24)
Senator Capito: (22:24)
Thank you, all.
Speaker 10: (22:34)