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Buttigieg: Time running out for GOP on infrastructure bill

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday on infrastructure

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday on infrastructure bill talks with Republicans, "There's movement in the right direction." Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

Time is running short for Republicans to agree on terms of an infrastructure deal, said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Sunday, while insisting the back-and-forth was "healthy" and would continue.

As Democrats press the White House to approve the bill without Republican support, a "fish or cut bait moment" is fast approaching for the GOP, Buttigieg acknowledged.

Senate Republicans on Thursday pitched a $928 billion counterproposal, narrowing the gap with the Biden administration's recent $1.7 trillion offer.

The original Biden proposal was $2.3 trillion, and Republicans' first counter-offer was $568 billion.

"I think we are getting pretty close to a fish-or-cut-bait moment, but I will tell you that, on the fishing side of things, the negotiations have been healthy," Buttigieg said on CNN's "State of the Union."

The GOP plan boosts spending for roads and bridges, water resources, and airports.

The sides have been split over what constitutes "infrastructure," with the Democrats supporting funding for expanding child care, senior care, universal pre-K and health care programs, while Republicans said only "core infrastructure" projects should be considered.

On ABC's "This Week," Buttigieg said of Republicans: "They seem to be embracing the idea that about a trillion is appropriate. So, there’s movement in the right direction."

He said he had concerns "about things that are not in their counteroffer that are really important in terms of speaking to the climate imperative and the climate consequences of our transportation decisions, what we need to do around transit."

Buttigieg said when Congress returns on June 7, "we need a clear direction."

While it's encouraging to see "healthy conversations" between the White House and Republicans over the past days and weeks, President Joe Biden "keeps saying inaction is not an option. And time is not unlimited here," Buttigieg added.

Some Democrats say the Biden administration should pass an infrastructure bill through a budget process known as reconciliation. That process, which was used to pass the American Rescue Plan Act in March without Republican votes, would allow Democrats to approve the bill with a simple majority.

The Senate is split 50-50, and Vice President Kamala Harris can supply the tiebreaking vote.

Without reconciliation, it's unlikely Democrats would be able to muster support from enough Senate Republicans to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she supported the reconciliation approach.

"I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep," Gillibrand said on CNN.

"I don't think there's necessarily good will behind all negotiations," she added. "And I think the American people elected us to solve the problem of COVID, to rebuild the economy, rebuild the infrastructure. And I think it's our moment to act."

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a top negotiator for Senate Republicans, said Sunday she was optimistic the sides would come together.

"I think we can get to real compromise, absolutely, because we're both still in the game," she said during an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

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