Democrats, GOP agree on one thing: They're skeptical of a deal

Democrats, GOP agree on one thing: They're skeptical of a deal
© Greg Nash

The first White House meeting on Wednesday between President BidenJoe BidenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Biden appoints veteran housing, banking regulator as acting FHFA chief Iran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' MORE and congressional leaders from both parties in the House and Senate is being met with widespread skepticism that it will lead to any bipartisan compromise. 

Whether you ask Republicans or Democrats on Capitol Hill about the meeting, one thing is clear: There is little optimism, and both sides perceive the other as being more interested in a photo-op than actual dealmaking. 

Asked what he expected to come out of it, Sen. Dick DurbinDick Durbin'Killibuster': Democratic angst grows as filibuster threatens agenda Biden administration to back bill ending crack, powder cocaine sentence disparity: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats await Manchin decision on voting rights bill MORE (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, dryly quipped, “An infrastructure bill,” before becoming more skeptical. 


“I don’t know if it’s a good-faith effort on the part of the Republicans or not,” Durbin said.  

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoObama land management chief says Biden nominee should withdraw over tree-spiking incident Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said Republicans wanted “common ground” but questioned if Biden would meet them in the middle.  

“We’re hoping to find a partner in President Biden ... [but] if he’s only looking to make a photo-op out of this in an effort to say he’s trying to work with Republicans, that’s not what we’re looking for,” he added.  

Democrats doubt that Republicans will negotiate in good faith — pointing to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCan Manchin answer his predecessor's call on voting rights? Biden at Sen. John Warner's funeral: He 'gave me confidence' Democrats' narrow chance to retain control after 2022 MORE’s (R-Ky.) pledge over a recent recess that he’s focused on stopping Biden’s agenda.  

McConnell later walked that back slightly, saying that he wants to “do business” with Biden but that he needs to be “moderate.” 

Democrats aren’t convinced, noting that it’s similar to the remarks McConnell made during former President Obama’s tenure about making him a one-term president.  


“This is a consistent line. He said the same thing about Obama and tried to make good on it. Didn’t cooperate with Obama on virtually any issues,” Durbin said.  

Republicans are equally skeptical that Biden and Democrats will be willing to come down from their $4 trillion package, which combines a $2.3 trillion infrastructure and climate plan and a $1.8 trillion families plan.  

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsOvernight 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 Senate panel plans July briefing on war authorization repeal Overnight Defense: Senate panel delays Iraq war powers repeal | Study IDs Fort Hood as least-safe base for female soldiers | Pentagon loosens some COVID-19 restrictions MORE (R-S.D.) said if Democrats were trying to redefine infrastructure to include broader items that “most of us would never identify as infrastructure, then it will tell us that they really planned on doing it themselves alone.”  

Some Biden allies say that the president does want a bipartisan deal and that his goal with Wednesday’s meeting with congressional leaders is to figure out whether that is possible.  

“This isn’t for show,” said Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, who described a bipartisan deal on infrastructure as being within the “realm of possibilities.” 

“That doesn’t mean that they’re ultimately going to get a deal. There are some sincere attempts going on. Sincere attempts don’t always lead to success. But it means there is a chance,” Kessler said. 

One Biden adviser also said the meetings were not simply performative, adding that Biden wants a bipartisan deal if it’s possible and that he could look to accomplish the rest of his agenda through reconciliation. The adviser also doubted that McConnell’s recent comments would dampen their engagement. 

“McConnell said that about Obama too and he and Biden were able to work together,” the Biden adviser said. “If he gets the sense from this meeting that McConnell intends to block this thing, he’s going to move in another direction.” 

Biden and Vice President Harris will sit down Wednesday in the Oval Office with the “Big Four”: McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats urge Biden to extend moratorium on student loan payments White House draws ire of progressives amid voting rights defeat Murkowski to vote 'no' on voting rights bill MORE (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Tim Cook called Pelosi to say tech antitrust bills were rushed MORE (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyTech antitrust bills create strange bedfellows in House markup Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — A new final frontier: Washing dirty laundry in space White House uses Trump's words praising China to slam McCarthy's Biden criticism MORE (R-Calif.).  

The meeting is expected to touch on Biden’s infrastructure proposal but may also wade into other territory, like addressing challenges posed by China.  

“His hope is that this can be a discussion about where we can find common agreement, where there is an opportunity to work together moving forward,” White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' On The Money: Biden to fire FHFA director after Supreme Court removes restriction | Yellen pleads with Congress to raise debt ceiling Biden emphasizes investment in police, communities to combat crime MORE told reporters.  

Biden on Thursday will welcome Republican Sens. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Overnight Health Care: Takeaways on the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision | COVID-19 cost 5.5 million years of American life | Biden administration investing billions in antiviral pills for COVID-19 COVID-19 long-haulers press Congress for paid family leave MORE (W.Va.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate to vote on elections bill Congress barrels toward debt cliff Excellence Act will expand mental health and substance use treatment access to millions MORE (Mo.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoInflation concerns spark new political fights Yellen confident rising inflation won't be 'permanent' On The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits MORE (Idaho), Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyBlack women look to build upon gains in coming elections Watch live: GOP senators present new infrastructure proposal Sasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.), and Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerLobbying world Sen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (Miss.), along with Barrasso, to the White House for a discussion on infrastructure. Capito led a group of Republicans introducing a counterproposal on infrastructure that would cost $568 billion — about a third of the size of Biden’s plan. 

Capito downplayed the chances that they would leave the White House with an agreement. 

“I don’t expect that we’ll have an agreement then,” she said of Thursday’s meeting. But she said she hopes they can get to “serious negotiations.” 

A number of big differences between the two sides look difficult to reconcile. 

Besides the fact that they are far apart on the size of the package, Biden and Republicans are at odds over how to pay for it. 

Biden has pitched a combination of higher taxes for corporations, capital gains and some high-income earners.  

But that’s considered a non-starter for Republicans, who say they will not support changes to the 2017 tax bill. Republicans in 2017 used reconciliation, a process that allowed them to bypass the filibuster, to set the corporate rate at 21 percent.  


Republicans have suggested paying for a smaller “core” infrastructure bill through a combination of user fees and an increased gas tax.  

But Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHeat wave sparks historically unseasonable wildfires in West Biogen opens door to adjusting price of Alzheimer's drug amid outcry Overnight Health Care: White House acknowledges it will fall short of July 4 vaccine goal | Fauci warns of 'localized surges' in areas with low vaccination rates | Senate Finance leader releases principles for lowering prescription drug prices MORE (D-Ore.) poured cold water on that idea, telling The Hill that it would be a “big mistake” to go down that path.  

Should Biden ditch Republicans to pass his next piece of legislation using budget reconciliation, he would need every Senate Democrat and most of their House counterparts united. 

That means convincing moderates to get on board. 

In advance of his meetings with Republicans, Biden also sat down with moderate Democratic Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Senators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' MORE (W.Va.) and Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaSenators say White House aides agreed to infrastructure 'framework' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden is keeping the filibuster to have 'a Joe Manchin presidency' Sanders says he's 'tired of talking' about Manchin, Sinema MORE (Ariz.) in separate individual meetings at the White House.