Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Thursday his fellow Republicans have not given up hope of reaching a bipartisan deal on a significant infrastructure bill.
"We're continuing to engage in discussions...across the aisle and with the administration," he told Fox News Channel. "We haven't given up hope that we'll be able to reach a deal on ... a major infrastructure bill."
McConnell continued: "All we're insisting on is that the infrastructure bill be about infrastructure and not a lot of other things and it will credibly paid for."
Taxe hikes are a red line for Republicans, McConnell suggested.
"I think it is an important thing for the country but it needs to be crafted in such a way it's actually about infrastructure," he said. "We aren't willing to go back and reopen the 2017 tax bill, which produced remarkable prosperity up until February of 2020 right before the pandemic hit. But there are other ways to credibly pay for a major infrastructure bill and I think there is a good chance we can get there."
Later Thursday, as rumors spread of a possible deal, McConnell said he had not heard anything yet.
"Not that I know of," McConnell said when asked by a reporter whether such a tentative deal had been reached. "I think there is still talking going on as far as I know," he added.
Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim tweeted there were signs of some progress.
"Per@MittRomney, the infrastructure Gang of 10 have reached an agreement on the overall size of the package, how much it’ll spend on each provision and how they’ll pay for it. He and other Rs will brief other Republicans, Ds will brief admin officials," she wrote on Twitter.
McConnell met late on Wednesday with Republican lawmakers who are trying to hammer out a bipartisan deal with President Joe Biden, Republican Senator Susan Collins also said on Thursday.
"We had a good meeting with Senator McConnell. He listened to the plan that we outlined and he said that he was - quote - open to it. He certainly did not commit one way or the other. But he’s in a listening mode and said that he was open to it,” Collins told Reuters.
Biden broke off talks on Tuesday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who had headed a six-member Republican team, including party leaders and top members of relevant Senate committees.
The White House is remaining upbeat about prospects for a deal.
Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director, said on Thursday she was encouraged by bipartisan negotiations continuing in the House of Representatives and Senate.
"We're seeing progress on multiple fronts right now," she told CNN. "This is how a bill becomes a law. It's a process with many steps, and we're encouraged by all of the progress happening on these different paths simultaneously."
A bipartisan group of 10 senators is trying to craft a plan to revitalize U.S. roads and bridges without tax hikes, lawmakers said on Wednesday, though some of Biden's fellow Democrats fretted that such an approach on infrastructure legislation would fail.
Revamping America's infrastructure is a high priority for Biden, but his sweeping $1.7 trillion proposal has run into trouble in a Congress that his party only narrowly controls, making Republican support pivotal.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters that members of the group have reached "tentative conclusions" on their plan but did not provide details. The proposal is expected to total nearly $900 billion.
"We're not raising taxes," Romney told reporters. "We're going to be talking to other members to see if we can get enough support for this to have the necessary votes to be successful."
A Democratic member of the group, Senator Jon Tester, said he would be willing to look at funding an infrastructure plan without raising taxes though he was not committed to that approach.
"I would consider it, sure," Tester said. "I think there's plenty of pots of money out there - hopefully they're not all smoke and mirrors."
The bipartisan group also includes Republicans Rob Portman, Bill Cassidy, Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and Democrats Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin, Mark Warner and Jeanne Shaheen.
Some liberal Democrats have become frustrated by the long-running talks, and have worried that this will lead to a smaller deal that does not include party priorities, including funding for schools and home healthcare.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown sounded pessimistic about the chances for bipartisan success, saying an infrastructure plan without tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy to help pay for it would have little credence with his fellow Democrats.
"There aren't 10 Republicans who are even willing to talk to us about compromise," Brown said. "And if they get exactly 10 Republicans, you'd probably lose some Democrats if it's too squish, middle-of-the-road, stand-for-nothing minimalist."
Cassidy, who spoke to Biden about infrastructure by phone on Tuesday, predicted that any plan containing tax hikes would not receive enough Republican support to pass the Senate.
The Senate is divided 50-50, with Democrats in control because Vice President Kamala Harris can cast a tie-breaking vote. Sixty votes are needed in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation.
Biden has proposed raising taxes on U.S. corporations to help fund a sweeping package that would address physical infrastructure projects, as well as climate change and social programs. Republicans have shown no appetite for tax increases, having strongly backed a 2017 tax cut law signed by former President Donald Trump.
Portman said the group is looking at funding mechanisms for their proposal that could face Democratic resistance, including unspecified user fees and tapping into funds for COVID-19 pandemic-related unemployment payments to individuals that some states have returned to the U.S. Treasury.
"I think the White House is interested in talking with us about appropriate ways to look at some COVID funding that's being sent back," said Portman, adding that lawmakers have also considered an infrastructure bank to fund projects.
Biden broke off talks on Tuesday with Capito, who had headed a six-member Republican team, including party leaders and top members of relevant Senate committees.
Capito had offered Biden $330 billion in new infrastructure spending, far short of what he has sought.
Cassidy said the bipartisan nature of his group could make a difference.
"That softens the White House line, potentially," Cassidy told an online forum. "It may allow Republicans to be a little bit more giving."
Separately, a bipartisan group of 58 House lawmakers led by Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Brian Fitzpatrick known as the Problem Solvers Caucus released a $1.2 trillion infrastructure framework. The caucus has been working with the bipartisan group of senators, a source familiar with the negotiations said. The proposal does not include details on how it will be paid for.
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