Biden meets with bipartisan senators to discuss potential infrastructure bill
President Biden met with bipartisan senators on Thursday to discuss the contours of a potential infrastructure package, warning that if the U.S. does not invest in the issue, China is “going to eat our lunch.”
“I’ve been around long enough … that it used to be that infrastructure wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue. There are not many Republican or Democratic roads and bridges,” Biden said in the Oval Office.
Biden said he hoped to come to “some kind of generic consensus” on how to move forward with the group.
Four senators attended the meeting: Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; ranking member Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.); Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.); and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Vice President Harris was also in the room, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg attended virtually while in quarantine after a member of his security detail tested positive for the coronavirus.
The president said his call a day earlier with Chinese President Xi Jinping underscored the urgent need for an infrastructure package that invests in rail, roads and labor.
“Last night I was on the phone for two straight hours with Xi Jinping,” Biden said. “And it was a good conversation, I know him well, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the years I was vice president. But you know, if we don’t get moving, they’re going to eat our lunch.”
Biden cited China’s progress on rail initiatives and the country’s bid to be a major player in the future of the automobile industry.
After the meeting, both Capito and Inhofe told reporters in the Senate they had a productive meeting with Biden.
“We agreed on a lot of things because the president and I have been working together on transportation since 1987,” Inhofe said, referencing Biden’s time in the Senate.
Capito, in a statement issued later Thursday, called the meeting “positive and substantive” and said those in attendance agreed to continue working toward a more defined legislative package.
“We should be forward leaning when it comes to tackling the transportation needs of today and tomorrow in a way that works for all communities, instead of a one-sized-fits all approach,” she said.
Infrastructure has long been thought of as a potential area for bipartisan agreement given needed investments in roadways, railways and other industries across the country. Democrats have also viewed it as an opportunity to invest in more climate friendly structures and modes of transportation.
Republicans previously balked at the price tag for a potential infrastructure bill during the Trump administration, and some have signaled that could be an obstacle to progress on a bill under Biden.
Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a member of the Joint Economic Committee, said at an event hosted last month by The Hill that there needs to be targeted spending.
“A lot of the lobbying population still see the world of infrastructure as pouring concrete. For many of us, we want to say, ‘What is the ultimate definition that is actually good for our communities? What actually creates the most economic growth? It’s going to be a combination of technology, smart design, and pouring that concrete,’ ” Schweikert said.
Jordain Carney contributed to this report, which was updated at 2:57 p.m.