© Reuters. Senate Democrats hold a press conference on Capitol Hill
By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratically controlled U.S. Senate is expected to take its first step towards President Joe Biden's $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure package next week while Senate Republicans prepare a tighter proposal that is less than a third of the size.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday he intends to include a $ 30 billion water resource bill as the first test of Republicans' willingness to work with Democrats on Biden's comprehensive infrastructure proposal.
"The Water Infrastructure Act is a small but important part of this overall effort," said Schumer in a keynote address, adding that the move was unanimously endorsed by the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works.
"It will approve tens of billions of dollars to ensure American families, especially low-income families, have access to safe and clean drinking water," he said.
Schumer announced the move amid growing bipartisan talks in the Senate and White House on how to move forward with infrastructure legislation that can create jobs and boost the economy as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito told reporters that Republicans were working on their own infrastructure proposal and said in a CNBC interview that there could be bipartisan support for a $ 600 billion to $ 800 billion package.
Eight members of a bipartisan group of House lawmakers known as the "Problem Solvers Caucus" discussed infrastructure with White House officials on Wednesday. Several lawmakers have urged the White House to consider a "more manageable" and traditional infrastructure package, attending Republican representative Dusty Johnson told Reuters.
In addition to repairing America's roads and bridges, the Biden package would seek to reshape the course of the US economy by fighting climate change and promoting social programs like care for the elderly.
Republicans say the plan will be dominated by spending unrelated to traditional infrastructure, and they oppose a proposal to fund the initiative through tax increases for U.S. corporations.
Johnson said Republicans were "quite skeptical" that the Biden administration's desire for bipartisan infrastructure was real – but added that the two White House officials, Chief of Staff Ron Klain and Presidential Advisor Steve Ricchetti, appeared sincere . "We'll be looking for … the next steps they're taking to reinforce their message," Johnson said.
Biden has begun meeting bipartisan groups of lawmakers in the White House to seek Republican support for his infrastructure plan. But the Democrats have announced that if their opposition continues, they will move forward without a Republican through a legislative process called reconciliation.
Republicans want to focus on roads, bridges, airports, ports, waterways, and broadband access, and pay for the improvements with usage fees like road taxes and unspent COVID-19 aid funds.
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