Bipartisan Infrastructure Prospects Dim as GOP Boycotts Hearing

  • Democrats discuss broad package at Ways and Means event
  • GOP ranking member calls for ‘real hearing’

Republicans signaled they weren’t going to engage in infrastructure negotiations Tuesday at a House panel event to gather members’ priorities for a forthcoming package​.

Democrats said they want a bipartisan bill, but advocated for a broad definition of infrastructure that Republicans reject.

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said no members of the GOP would participate in the committee’s members’ day hearing because Democrats had over-politicized the infrastructure process.

“As you know infrastructure has long been a bipartisan issue in Congress. For decades Republicans, Democrats have come together on finding common ground on key issues,” Brady said. “Regrettably, in our view, today’s hearing is nothing more than another partisan exercise so the Democrat House leadership can set up yet another multi-trillion-dollar one-sided spending bill.”

The Biden administration is considering as much as $3 trillion worth of infrastructure investments. House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said lawmakers need to update their definition of infrastructure to include social infrastructure programs such as affordable child care as they put the package together.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.).

Neal said he will work closely with the Biden administration to update the tax code and raise funds for “modern and sustainable infrastructure,” taking into account feedback from both Republicans and Democrats.

“Every effort will be made to secure bipartisan support for infrastructure,” Neal said at the hearing. “I’m particularly interested to hear from members on both sides of the aisle.”

Democrats are considering using budget reconciliation—an expedited procedure to bypass the Senate’s 60-vote threshold—for at least part of their infrastructure package. Surface transportation programs that expire Sept. 30 likely can’t be reauthorized using reconciliation, so Democrats will need Republican support for a bill dealing with those programs.

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‘Check the Box’

Brady said Democrats used the hearing to “check the box to satisfy regular order on a major infrastructure overhaul.” He said Republicans want a “real hearing” on financing for infrastructure before moving forward on legislation. The Ways and Means Committee’s jurisdiction includes tax-related elements of an infrastructure package, which could include changes to motor fuels tax rates or other tax changes to offset the package’s cost.

“This is a topic too important, too widespread, and frankly too costly to be politicized this way,” Brady said.

He said the committee should have a hearing with expert witnesses, instead of members just giving testimony without back-and-forth questions.

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Carbon Tax Push

Despite Republicans’ absence from the hearing, Democrats still attempted to identify policies to pay for infrastructure that they believed could garner bipartisan support.

Biden and congressional Democrats have said that climate needs to be a central component. Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) said a price on carbon is the “most politically feasible climate strategy” to pay for an infrastructure package, since Democrats support it and Republicans and industry stakeholders are starting to come on board.

“With this new openness to considering a carbon tax, among industry and Republicans, it’s irresponsible to dismiss the idea because of so-called political difficulties,” he said. “Are we so out of practice in bipartisan lawmaking that we do not see this tremendous opening?”

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He said a carbon tax could have more support than raising the gas tax, which hasn’t been increased in nearly 30 years. The Biden administration is floating tax hikes on corporate profits and households making $400,000 or more to partially pay for infrastructure proposals.

But any tax policies still could be a hard sell. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that there isn’t GOP support for legislation that requires tax hikes.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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