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White House digs in as infrastructure talks stall

A busy afternoon of meetings between senior White House officials and Senate moderates failed to achieve a breakthrough Tuesday after senior Biden advisers made it clear they do not support several of the senators’ strategies for paying for new infrastructure investment.

Senators predicted earlier this month that whether a bipartisan infrastructure bill passes Congress this year will depend largely on whether there’s an agreement on how to pay for it, and that’s turning out to be prescient.

The prospects of a bipartisan infrastructure deal appeared to dip Tuesday after senior White House officials raised concerns over the funding sources proposed by a bipartisan group of 21 senators and resisted Republican suggestions to repurpose more in unspent COVID-19 relief funding to pay for new infrastructure projects.

“Nothing’s easy around here. The White House came in and took a bunch of pay-fors off the table,” said a senator familiar with Tuesday’s discussions.

Senior White House adviser Steve RicchettiSteve RicchettiWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure The Hill’s Morning Report – After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE, National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure The Hill’s Morning Report – After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? On The Money: Breaking down Biden’s .8T American Families Plan | Powell voices confidence in Fed’s handle on inflation | Wall Street basks in ‘Biden boom’ MORE and White House Legislative Affairs Director Louisa TerrellLouisa TerrellThe Hill’s Morning Report – After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by TikTok – Day 1 goes to Dems as GOP fumes at Trump lawyers Meet President Biden’s legislative affairs chief MORE met with a smaller group of moderate Republican and Democratic senators in Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSchumer vows next steps after ‘ridiculous,’ ‘awful’ GOP election bill filibuster White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Senate GOP blocks voting rights bill MORE’s (D-Ariz.) office in the Hart Building before reconvening later in the day during votes in Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure This week: Senate set for voting rights fight MORE’s (R-Ohio) Capitol hideaway.

While White House officials indicated they like the idea of an infrastructure bank to leverage public funding to raise private investment for infrastructure projects, they see such financing authority as a supplemental strategy for spurring new infrastructure development and not a core strategy for funding a potential $974 billion, five-year bipartisan infrastructure package. 

Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneOn The Money: Democrats make full-court press on expanded child tax credit | White House confident Congress will raise debt ceiling Psaki: Biden ‘believes’ Congress will lift debt limit despite spending battle Congress barrels toward debt cliff MORE (S.D.) said, “it’s gotten more complicated with the pay-fors,” after hearing from colleagues who met with senior White House staff.

“There are a number of things that they had already kind of ditched previously and I think there’s an even bigger hole now,” he added.

Senators in the bipartisan group had hoped that the discussions with senior White House officials would set up a meeting with President BidenJoe BidenBaltimore police chief calls for more ‘boots on the ground’ to handle crime wave Biden to deliver remarks at Sen. John Warner’s funeral Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump MORE for later in the week, but as of Tuesday afternoon no such meeting had yet been scheduled. 

Instead, the White House appears to be turning its attention to setting up a budget reconciliation process that would allow Congress to pass a major infrastructure bill with only Democratic votes. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerWhite House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote ‘no’ on voting rights bill Harris to preside over Senate for voting rights debate MORE (D-N.Y.) informed Senate colleagues at a closed-door lunch Tuesday that he and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs warn against sweeping reform to military justice system | Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal | National Guard may have ‘training issues’ if not reimbursed On The Money: Powell says pickup in job gains likely this fall | Schumer, Pelosi meeting with White House on infrastructure MORE (D-Calif.) will meet with White House officials Wednesday to discuss strategy for moving a budget resolution through Congress. 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Hill’s 12:30 Report – Presented by Facebook – Senate to vote on elections bill Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden’s 2020 agenda Progressives fear nightmare scenario over voting rights assault MORE (D-Mass.), a leading progressive voice, said Democrats are planning to move forward on a major infrastructure package, with or without a bipartisan deal. 

“The Senate is going to vote, so we have our plans for voting in place. We’re moving forward whether the bipartisan group has a deal or not,” she said. 

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterWhite House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Mont.), a moderate who has endorsed a scaled-down bipartisan infrastructure proposal, acknowledged after Tuesday’s meeting with White House officials that the talks had hit a few speed bumps. But he still described the discussions as “positive.” 

“All positive, all bumpy,” he said. 

Republican senators, however, didn’t seem very optimistic after leaving a nearly two-hour meeting in Portman’s office.

Pressed if she thought a deal was imminent, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSchumer vows next steps after ‘ridiculous,’ ‘awful’ GOP election bill filibuster Murkowski to vote ‘no’ on voting rights bill White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure MORE (R-Alaska) shrugged her shoulders slightly, while Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyPortman: Republicans are ‘absolutely’ committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle MORE (R-La.) described the talks with White House officials as “fantastic,” with a dose of sarcasm in his voice.

Asked if she was encouraged by Tuesday’s meetings, Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPelosi quashes reports on Jan. 6 select committee White House advisers huddle with Senate moderates on infrastructure Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden’s 2020 agenda MORE (R-Maine) said, “Well, we’re still working.” 

A Senate Republican aide said moderates were expecting White House officials to give more ground, since Biden has said for weeks his preference is to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

The aide noted 11 Republicans have endorsed the framework on the table, which means it has a chance of securing the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, assuming Biden can unify his own party. 

“It’s up to the White House to come our way. We have 11 Republicans, and they can deliver their people if they want to,” the source said. 

The tough line taken by White House negotiators was expected by Democratic senators who predicted ahead of the meeting that officials would crack down on Republican proposals that don’t have much support in the Senate and House Democratic caucuses. 

“I think they’re going to draw a line in the sand. Any pay-fors that affect working people or people that make under $400,000, I think the president is very strong on that,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowRacial reparations at the USDA Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions Senate crafts Pelosi alternative on drug prices MORE (Mich.), a member of the Senate Democratic leadership. 

The White House does not support indexing the gas tax to inflation or placing an annual surcharge on electric vehicles, two sources of funding outlined in the bipartisan infrastructure framework unveiled last week. 

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBaltimore police chief calls for more ‘boots on the ground’ to handle crime wave White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat White House admits July 4 vaccine marker will be missed MORE last week instead suggested increased investment in tax enforcement to “ensure that people who are the wealthiest are paying what they should be paying in taxes.” 

Psaki on Tuesday said White House officials will meet again with Senate negotiators in hopes of making more progress. 

“The White House team had a productive meeting with the bipartisan Senate group working on infrastructure. While progress was made, more work remains to be done,” she said. 

Psaki said another meeting was possible on Wednesday. 

Ricchetti struck a more subdued tone compared to a week ago, when he described the talks as a “very cordial and productive discussion.” 

On Tuesday he was less effusive, telling reporters: “Everybody’s working.” He declined to answer follow-up questions. 

Ricchetti and Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told House Democrats last week that the White House would give Senate negotiators another 10 days to show clear progress in bipartisan talks. 

Jordain Carney and Brett Samuels contributed.

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