Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday that there needs to be “a clear direction” on infrastructure talks by the time Congress returns from its recess next week, calling ongoing negotiations over the administration’s sweeping proposal “encouraging” while stressing that the public expects action on the issue soon.
“This week Congress is out of Washington, but it’s very much going to be a workweek for us and for the conversations that are ongoing with Congress. By the time that they return, which is June 7, just a week from tomorrow, we need a clear direction,” Buttigieg told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“You know, certainly encouraging to see the healthy conversations that have happened over the last days and weeks, but the President keeps saying inaction is not an option and time is not unlimited here,” he added. “The American people expect us to do something, they expect us to deliver.”
The comments from the transportation secretary come as the White House and congressional Republicans remain locked in negotiations on the proposal, with President Joe Biden pushing for the passage of a nearly $1 trillion package that would provide money for roads, bridges and other major projects. The President is set to miss a Memorial Day deadline he had set for the talks, with lawmakers planning to return to Washington early next week.
Last week, Senate Republicans made a $928 billion counteroffer to Biden’s $1.7 trillion proposal, though their offer fell short of the $1 trillion that they had said Biden was open to during their White House negotiations. Buttigieg told CNN on Sunday that though Republicans “philosophically seem to agree that $1 trillion investment is the kind of thing we need to do right now,” there is still a lot of “daylight” between the two sides.
“Especially because things we consider very important — from making sure that we’re sparking an electric vehicle revolution and that it happens in the US with American workers on American soil, to the President’s commitment to make sure that we get rid of 100% of lead pipes in this country — we didn’t see as much of that in the counterproposal,” he said.
The administration, Buttigieg said, is “getting pretty close to a fish or cut bait moment” in its negotiations, indicating that Democrats may go it alone sooner rather than later if a deal isn’t reached.
“So, we believe in this process but also very much agree that this can’t go on forever,” he said.
Appearing later on “State of the Union,” Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said that “waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep.”
“We are about to miss the moment that we have to answer the need of this country. We are in an important, an important time, where people need government to work for them. So we have to answer that moment with bold reforms … I would go forward,” the New York Democrat told Tapper when asked if Republicans were negotiating over the issue in bad faith.
“Democrats should respond and vote together now through reconciliation to get it done and then move on to the rest of the bipartisan agenda,” Gillibrand added, referring to a process that makes it faster and easier to pass legislation related to spending, taxes and debt.
The disputes up to this point go far beyond the overall cost of a potential package, with sharply different views over the scale of any potential compromise proposal and how it would be paid for continuing to serve as major roadblocks. Biden has made clear, both publicly and privately to advisers and allies, he sees value to striking a scaled-back bipartisan deal, even if it means pushing off elements of his initial $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal until a later effort. But he’s also made clear he’s not willing to sharply scale back the full scope of his proposal.
The President is set to meet this week with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican who’s leading the Senate GOP’s negotiating team. The senator said Sunday that she’s optimistic about reaching a deal.
“I think the President is making the decisions,” she said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think we are building those blocks towards a really good, solid infrastructure package that has bipartisan support. So we’re responding to what the President has said. He told me on the phone just the day before yesterday, ‘Let’s get this done.’ And I think that means he has his heart is in this, we have had some back and forth with the staff who pulled back a little bit, but I think we’re smoothing out those edges.”
Capito said she will not vote to overturn tax cuts made during the Trump administration to pay for the package, adding Republicans are open to footing the bill through user fees for individuals who use hybrid and electric cars.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.