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.

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“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 RicchettiBiden adviser's brother lobbied National Security Council on GM's behalf Lobbyists with Biden ties enjoy surge in revenue, clients Trouble: IRS funding snags bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE, National Economic Council Director Brian DeeseBrian DeeseJust 6.5 percent of rental aid has reached tenants, landlords: Treasury Trouble: IRS funding snags bipartisan infrastructure deal On The Money: Inflation spike puts Biden on defensive | Senate Democrats hit spending speed bumps | Larry Summers huddles with WH team MORE and White House Legislative Affairs Director Louisa TerrellLouisa TerrellTrouble: IRS funding snags bipartisan infrastructure deal On The Money: Pelosi rebuffs McConnell on infrastructure | White House mounts full-court press on infrastructure deal | Supreme Court leaves CDC eviction moratorium intact White House mounts full-court press on infrastructure deal MORE met with a smaller group of moderate Republican and Democratic senators in Sen. Kyrsten SinemaKyrsten SinemaOn The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year Biden, Sinema meet as infrastructure talks hit rough patch Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure MORE’s (D-Ariz.) office in the Hart Building before reconvening later in the day during votes in Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanBiden, Sinema meet as infrastructure talks hit rough patch Feehery: It's time for Senate Republicans to play hardball on infrastructure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today 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 ThuneSenators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden 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 BidenRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Iowa governor suggests immigrants partially to blame for rising COVID-19 cases Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on MORE for later in the week, but as of Tuesday afternoon no such meeting had yet been scheduled. 

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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 Schumer84 mayors call for immigration to be included in reconciliation Senate infrastructure talks on shaky grounds Could Andrew Cuomo — despite scandals — be re-elected because of Trump? MORE (D-N.Y.) informed Senate colleagues at a closed-door lunch Tuesday that he and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse to resume mask mandate after new CDC guidance McCarthy pulls GOP picks off House economic panel GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (D-Calif.) will meet with White House officials Wednesday to discuss strategy for moving a budget resolution through Congress. 

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause and wipe out K per borrower Senate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary 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) TesterNative Americans are targets of voter suppression too The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today Senators scramble to save infrastructure deal 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 MurkowskiEight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division Manchin grills Haaland over Biden oil and gas moratorium The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today MORE (R-Alaska) shrugged her shoulders slightly, while Sen. Bill CassidyBill CassidyBipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor The Hill's Morning Report - High-profile COVID-19 infections spark new worries GOP centrists call on Schumer to delay infrastructure vote 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 CollinsOvernight Health Care: CDC advises vaccinated to wear masks in high-risk areas | Biden admin considering vaccine mandate for federal workers Eight Republicans join Democrats to confirm head of DOJ environmental division The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Crunch time for bipartisan plan; first Jan. 6 hearing today 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 StabenowSenate passes bill to award congressional gold medal to first Black NHL player The glass ceiling that diverse Senate staff still face Here's evidence the Senate confirmation process is broken 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 PsakiAly Raisman defends former teammate Biles: 'I'm proud of her' On The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year CDC backtracks with new mask guidance 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. 

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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.