As Biden’s infrastructure plan moves forward, can the GOP come to a yes?

As Biden’s infrastructure plan moves forward, can the GOP come to a yes?

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator, predicts support will only swell ahead of final votes. “That’s pretty darn good for a start,” Portman said after Wednesday’s outcome. “We can build on that as members begin to realize the impact of these projects on their states and the people they represent.”

Seventeen GOP senators joined all Democrats in voting this week to start the debate, launching what will be a dayslong process to consider the bill. The 67-32 vote was a surprisingly strong bipartisan showing, a rarity these days in the narrowly split Congress. But whether the number of Republican senators willing to pass a key part of Biden’s agenda grows or shrinks in the days ahead will determine if the president’s signature issue can make it across the finish line. For Republican senators weighing their options, there are plenty of reasons to stick with no.

The bipartisan Biden plan is big, with $550 billion in new spending beyond the typical highway and public works accounts. It’s being financed from funding sources that may not pass muster with deficit hawks, including repurposing untapped COVID-19 relief aid and relying on projected future economic growth. Besides, GOP opponents of Biden’s plan argue, passing this first part of the White House’s infrastructure agenda almost certainly helps pave the way for Democrats to pass a much bigger $3.5 trillion package on child care, health care and other far-reaching proposals that Republicans staunchly oppose. They call that plan a “reckless spending spree,” but can do little to stop it under special budget rules that won’t require the 60-vote threshold that will be needed to advance the bipartisan package over a filibuster in the evenly split 50-50 Senate.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who voted against launching debate this week, seems inclined to oppose the bipartisan package, even as he acknowledged the potential popularity of new roads, bridges, broadband internet and other infrastructure spending. “That’s always the challenge,” Lankford said Thursday. “People always say, ‘We want more.’ But when you say, ‘How do we pay for it?’, they’ll often say, ‘Yeah, we need to make sure it’s paid for as well.’” Yet some Republicans say it’s time to say yes.

After voting against Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief aid bill earlier this year and preparing to vote against the next big infrastructure package on deck, some Republicans worry about ending the first year of his presidency almost empty handed. “It feels like you’re against everything,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who was among the 17 voting to start work on the bill. “And I think that’s how it looks.” Infrastructure is a topic that has typically generated bipartisan support, and senators are hearing from mayors and other local officials about the need for federal investments in the big-ticket public works items that cities, counties and states cannot typically afford on their own.

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