But in reality, Republicans are offering nothing remotely close to a serious or reasonable counter-bid, and they know it. This is obvious from their use of an accounting gimmick that inflates their “compromise” and makes it look more similar in size to Biden’s plan. Once you un-cook the books and use apples-to-apples budgeting rules to compare the proposals, you’ll realize that what the GOP has offered is mere pennies on the dollar of what Biden has requested.
Specifically, Republicans have offered to tender 8 cents of new spending for every $1 Biden wants. Even less, in some cases.
In March, Biden unveiled his American Jobs Plan, which proposed about $2.25 trillion in new infrastructure spending. The White House defined “infrastructure” broadly, as not just surface transportation (roads and bridges) but also some initiatives such as broadband, research and development, electric vehicles, and eldercare.
Republicans portrayed it as a silly Democratic wish list divorced from the country’s real infrastructure needs. They crowned themselves the true arbiters of useful infrastructure spending and last week announced their counteroffer — well, really more like a two-page infographic, rather than a fully fleshed-out proposal.
Their top-line number, they declared, was $568 billion.
That is obviously quite a bit smaller than Biden’s $2.25 trillion ask. But perhaps it still sounded like a good-faith overture, since Republicans had pitched their alternative as one focused on the narrower mission of “physical, core infrastructure" (no eldercare, etc.).
But this lowball bid is even lower than it first appears once you realize how Republicans rigged the accounting.
See, the White House proposal had been framed as new infrastructure money, on top of whatever the government was already expected to spend on roads, bridges, airports, broadband, etc., if existing laws and programs continue without changes. (Budget wonks usually call this “baseline” spending.) The Republican plan, by contrast, takes credit for all this already scheduled spending when calculating its total.
That’s significant because the “baseline” spending (roughly $379 billion over the next five years) represents almost all of what Republicans have offered up. Once you strip out this already expected spending, the entire GOP plan is a mere $189 billion of new money.
So let’s do an apples-to-apples comparison: If you compare GOP new spending to only the same line items of spending in the Biden plan — the select categories Republicans have blessed as “core” infrastructure — it means Republicans are offering about 24 percent of Biden’s proposal ($189 billion vs. $785 billion). If you instead compare the overall packages — that is, including electric vehicles, R&D, eldercare and everything else in Biden’s American Jobs Plan — the GOP counteroffer is only about 8 percent of what Biden seeks ($189 billion vs. $2.25 trillion).
In some categories of spending, the GOP proposal is especially stingy. On public transit, for example, Republicans are proposing not merely less than Biden wants; Republicans are actually proposing to cut public transit funding to levels below the existing baseline, according to calculations from Jeff Davis, senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation.
Most journalists completely missed the sleight-of-hand here — with one notable exception of my Post colleague, the indefatigable Fact Checker Glenn Kessler. In nearly all news coverage, Biden’s $2.25 trillion plan and the $568 billion GOP proposal have been presented as directly comparable — even though at a press conference Thursday unveiling the GOP plan, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) acknowledged that Republicans had done their accounting differently.
Republicans’ proposed ways to pay for their plan are also sketchy. In vague bullet points and interviews, they suggest “repurpos[ing]” already appropriated, unspecified “covid dollars” and extending the Trump tax cuts. That latter proposal would reduce tax revenue, not increase it, so would do nothing to offset new spending. (Biden has proposed partly rolling back the Trump corporate tax cuts, which most Americans support doing.)
You might wonder why Republicans would deliberately inflate the size of their spending proposal, since they usually portray themselves as the party of small government.
But it makes sense for at least two reasons. First, polls suggest that major new investments in infrastructure (even when broadly defined) are extremely popular, and Republicans probably don’t want to be seen as scrimping on popular spending. Second, Republicans have spent months trying to poke a hole in Biden’s narrative that he’s pursuing bipartisanship and unity.
Their latest gambit: appearing to tender a compromise, while actually making an offer Biden can only refuse.