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President Biden Has Ended Negotiations Over The Infrastructure Deal

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The infrastructure talks seem to be over. West Virginia Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito says President Biden ended negotiations with her on an infrastructure deal today. That moves the debate on the president's chief domestic priority into a new phase. Let's bring in national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.

KELLY: All right. What's the right verb to use here? Did the talks end? Did they fall apart, they break down? What happened?

LIASSON: Well, I think they ended. They were always extremely far...

KELLY: But without a deal, so...

LIASSON: Without a deal.

KELLY: Yeah.

LIASSON: They ended without a deal. They were unsuccessful. I think that's very fair to say. They were very far apart. They were far apart on the amount of money both sides wanted to spend. The president actually reduced his offer from 1.7 trillion to $1 trillion of new spending. The Republicans brought theirs up by only 150 billion. So they were about 800 billion apart at the end.

They couldn't decide how to pay for it. The Republicans wanted user fees. The president didn't consider those a tax on middle-class people. He wanted a guaranteed minimum corporate tax.

But they were - they never looked very fruitful. But of course, both sides says that - say they negotiated in good faith. And the White House says there are other paths to a deal, and they're exploring them.

KELLY: Yeah. I want to note that a statement from the White House has come in now. So we've got statements from both sides...

LIASSON: Right.

KELLY: ...In these negotiations. The president's saying the latest offer from her group did not, in his view, meet the essential needs of the country, but, as you just noted, Mara, that he's still committed to getting this done. He's pursuing multiple paths to get this done.

LIASSON: That's right.

KELLY: So it sounds like there were differences both on what the actual legislation should look like, what the policy should look like, and then on who was going to foot the bill and how to pay for it.

LIASSON: Right, on what we call the pay-fors. That's right. They were very, very far apart on that. But now, the president is talking to a different group of senators that includes Republicans. This is a bipartisan group that's trying to hammer out an infrastructure deal. It includes Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema on the Democratic side; Mitt Romney, Rob Portman and Senator Cassidy on the Republican side. The president spoke to some of them today. He's encouraging them to continue their work to see if they can come up with a bipartisan proposal that will meet his criteria. And so that's track two.

There actually is a track three (laughter), which is the president continues to consult with Democratic congressional leaders to prepare the ground for a Democratic vote-only bill. That would be infrastructure on what's known as reconciliation. It's a carve out to the filibuster. You only need 50 Democratic votes for that. And the Democrats are ready in case these new bipartisan talks fall apart, that they would go forward with Democratic votes only. They'd need all Democrats to vote for that, and they don't have all Democrats yet. So there are a lot of paths, but so far, the White House doesn't have the votes to succeed on any of them right now.

KELLY: I mean, what does it tell us that they're already preparing track three before they've even tried track two? I guess what...

LIASSON: Well, you have to...

KELLY: ...I'm getting at is how optimistic should we be...

LIASSON: Well, I...

KELLY: ...That those tracks will have any better chances of success?

LIASSON: I think the safest place is to be pessimistic. But the president would like a bipartisan deal if he could. There are Republicans who would like to vote for an infrastructure plan, but it's very hard to find common ground. They have to prepare track three, the reconciliation track, because certain things need to happen before they can have that kind of vote. But the president has made it clear that he wants a bipartisan deal. But barring one, he is going to move forward. As he said, his two red lines are doing nothing and raising taxes for people who make under $400,000.

KELLY: Is there any world, Mara, in which we just don't get an infrastructure deal, in which it dies?

LIASSON: Well, that is a really interesting question. I've been asking that to many people in the White House. I don't think so. I think in the end, Joe Manchin, who's, of course, the center of the Democratic universe on - in the Senate, I think that he will vote for an infrastructure bill. Maybe not the one as written today - it'll have to be pared down to meet his criteria - but, yes, I think in the end, they probably will get some kind of infrastructure package.

KELLY: All right. That is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson with the latest on the infrastructure talks, which have ended. We agreed that's a verb we can go with - the talks that have ended between President Biden and Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito today.

Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.