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Biden prepares for sweeping recovery package after Covid-19 relief bill

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 20, 2021 US President Joe Biden delivers his inauguration speech on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. - The US death toll from Covid-19 is approaching a grim milestone: Half a million people in this country dead from the coronavirus. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (AFP)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 20, 2021 US President Joe Biden delivers his inauguration speech on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. - The US death toll from Covid-19 is approaching a grim milestone: Half a million people in this country dead from the coronavirus. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (AFP)
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The prospect of another pricey package is already raising concerns among some Republicans

WASHINGTON—As President Biden pushes for passage of his coronavirus relief plan, he has begun working on a wide-ranging economic recovery package that could face skepticism from lawmakers who are wary of another high-dollar legislative response to the pandemic.

White House officials say Mr. Biden’s priority is passing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package being negotiated in Congress.

But Mr. Biden, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, has begun laying the groundwork for the coming proposal in phone calls and White House meetings with his former colleagues. The president and his advisers have for weeks been quietly discussing the matter with members of Congress and senior Capitol Hill aides, according to people familiar with the matter, and Mr. Biden is optimistic that a compromise can be reached.

The exact contours of the new round of investments in the economy remain to be determined. Mr. Biden during his presidential campaign outlined his interest in new infrastructure investments and measures to combat climate change and boost manufacturing jobs, as well as improving access to child care and seeking ways to increase racial equity.

The prospect of another pricey package is already raising concerns among some Republicans. Congressional aides also said that while there is bipartisan interest in funding infrastructure improvements, there will be tension between progressive lawmakers who want expansive proposals that address longstanding Democratic priorities and moderates and Republicans who support less expensive, more tailored measures.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R., W.Va.), who was among a group of lawmakers who recently discussed infrastructure plans with Mr. Biden in the Oval Office, noted that if Congress passes Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package, it will have approved more than $3 trillion in spending related to the pandemic since December.

“As the amount of money we have spent increases, we must be cognizant of the fiscal burdens we are adding to future generations," said Ms. Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. She will play a key role in crafting any legislation to upgrade the country’s roads and bridges, a measure that likely will be part of Mr. Biden’s broader economic package.

Rep. Sam Graves (R., Mo.), the top Republican on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said GOP lawmakers want to work on a transportation bill but added: “It depends on what that price tag is."

Mr. Biden so far has declined to say how much he wants to spend on his broad economic plan, but outside analysts estimate that the proposals he made during his presidential campaign could cost trillions of dollars.

Allies of Mr. Biden have had early discussions about using a budget maneuver known as reconciliation to pass the economic recovery package with only Democratic votes, people familiar with the matter said. Such an effort, which would face fierce opposition from Republicans, would echo the approach Democrats are taking with the $1.9 trillion relief measure.

White House officials said they hoped to pass the second measure, often referred to as the Build Back Better plan, with bipartisan support and remained open to ideas from Republicans.

“The Build Back Better plan in all of its elements—that again we have yet to announce and to develop a strategy for how we want to handle—we believe has a strong potential for bipartisan support in many of its elements," top adviser Steve Ricchetti said in an interview.

White House officials said they were spending much of their time ensuring that the initial relief bill passes Congress. Democratic lawmakers have said they intend to send the bill to Mr. Biden’s desk by mid-March.

“The bulk of all of our efforts are on the rescue package itself," Mr. Ricchetti said. He said discussions about the forthcoming package are in initial stages and wouldn’t pull attention away from the legislation moving through Congress.

During a January speech, Mr. Biden described a two-step plan to rebuild the economy, starting with the current coronavirus relief package and following with a more expansive recovery plan. He said at the time that he would lay out that second plan during a joint address to Congress in February.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that there was no date set for an address.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), who also attended the infrastructure meeting with Mr. Biden at the White House this month, said: “I think [Mr. Biden] would like to go big. I think that was very clear. And that he would like to start now, recognizing that it’s going to take time."

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D., Del.) said senators discussed with Mr. Biden how to pay for the infrastructure component of the package. “There has to be some way as a country that we have to start paying for things. If things are worth having, they’re worth paying for," Mr. Carper said.

While infrastructure projects are popular with both parties, deciding how they are financed—whether through government spending, loans or public-private partnerships—has proven to be a sticking point in previous negotiations. Another question is whether the White House will endorse one sweeping package or a series of smaller proposals. Lawmakers are reviewing bills that were approved in the previous Congress but weren’t signed into law.

Mr. Carper said he is planning to ask all senators to provide lists of transportation projects that should be included in his coming surface transportation bill, which he hopes to pass in his committee by Memorial Day.

Democrats are expected to employ a similar political strategy to sell the coming package that they are using for the $1.9 trillion bill, which includes pointing to public polling that shows elements of the proposal are popular with the public in an effort to pressure Republicans to support it.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D., Fla.), the chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said recent blackouts in Texas due to severe winter storms showed the need for investments in the electric grid.

“I don’t think you can underestimate public opinion coming out of this Texas blackout," she said.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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