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To Win Over Republicans, Biden Offers An Infrastructure Plan Trimmed To $1.7 Trillion

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden has been trying to convince Republicans to back his big infrastructure plan. There's been some interest, but Republicans have balked at the $2 trillion price tag. Well, today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden is dropping his asking bid.

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JEN PSAKI: A reasonable counteroffer that reduces the size of the package from 2.25 trillion in additional investment to 1.7 trillion - and in our view, this is the art of seeking common ground.

SHAPIRO: But Republicans are already pushing back, and prospects for a bipartisan deal may be fading. NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe joins us now.

Hi, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: So how does this smaller proposal compare to what Republicans had said they are willing to support?

RASCOE: So this proposal is less than what it was. It's now about $550 billion less than the first offer from the White House, but that's still a lot more than what Republicans have said they're willing to pay. There's been a group of Republican senators led by Shelley Moore Capito that have been in talks with the White House. They offered a plan that was worth about $568 billion dollars in total, so there's still about a trillion dollars difference between them.

SHAPIRO: Well, what does the White House say the president is willing to let go of?

RASCOE: So this is a plan that Biden has said is needed to help the economy rebuild after the recession caused by the pandemic. And it's part of this broad push that - he's promised to change the U.S. economy, create jobs, address climate change. The changes today essentially boiled down to removing or cutting down spending areas that have drawn bipartisan support, so Biden is taking research and development out of this package and then cutting down on proposed calls for investments in roads, bridges and broadband. But the plan still includes a lot of measures that Republicans found problematic for an infrastructure bill, like modernizing VA hospitals or investing in care for the elderly. And Biden rejects the Republican proposals to pay for this, which - with user fees or gas taxes. So he rejects that outright.

SHAPIRO: Now, with the sides so far apart still, what are the chances that this bill will get passed?

RASCOE: The fact that the proposals are still so far apart is definitely a sign that Democrats may need to pursue the process known as reconciliation to get this done, but then they would still need all 50 Democrats to support the bill. And this is reminiscent of what happened last time on the COVID aid package. The White House said they wanted a bipartisan deal. They invited Republicans to negotiate, but then they said, we're just too far apart. We'll do this by reconciliation. The problem is Biden may not have all Democrats lined up for this approach. Two moderate senators have said they want a bipartisan support. West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema - they don't want a massive bill done through reconciliation without any Republicans.

SHAPIRO: Well, what has the Republican reaction been? Is there any chance that some might come on board?

RASCOE: Well, so Republican senators, including Senator Capito, said that this - there are still vast differences between the parties and that they actually seem further apart now than they were before the counteroffer, but they're not shutting the door to further negotiations. They say they're still willing to talk and engage with the administration on this.

SHAPIRO: White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, thanks a lot.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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