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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden opened talks with lawmakers Monday afternoon on his $2.25 trillion jobs and infrastructure plan, saying he's "prepared to negotiate" the size of the package and how to pay for it.
"I think everyone acknowledges we need a significant increase in infrastructure," Biden said from the Oval Office before meeting with a bipartisan group of four senators and four House members. "It's going to get down to what we call infrastructure."
Biden has framed his American Jobs Plan as a "once-in a generation investment" that would be the country's largest jobs program since World War II, repair aging infrastructure and position the U.S. to compete economically with China.
But Republicans have pushed back at spending for home caregiving, clean energy programs and other items that go beyond roads, bridges and other physical infrastructure. Republicans argue Biden and Democrats are using the popularity of infrastructure investment to fund unrelated liberal priorities.
Biden said some critics don't believe replacing lead pipes to ensure safe drinking water or expanding broadband internet – like his plan addresses – is infrastructure work.
"It's not just roads, bridges, highways, etcetera," Biden said. "That's what we're going to talk about," he said, adding with a smile: "I'm confident everything is going to work out perfectly."
He shot down a question from a reporter about whether the bipartisan meeting was just for show.
"I'm not big on window-dressing, as you've observed," he said
Lawmakers who met with Biden included Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, Deb Fischer, R-Nebraska, Alex Padilla, D-California, and Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Reps. Garret Graves, R-Louisiana, Donald Payne Jr., D-New Jersey, David Price, D-North Carolina and Don Young, R-Alaska. Vice President Kamala Harris also attended.
Republicans have stayed united in opposition to Biden's jobs plan since its release nearly two weeks ago. That includes slamming how Biden wants to pay for it – increasing the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% – which would eliminate the 2017 tax cuts former President Donald Trump and Republicans worked to approve just four years ago.
Wicker told reporters the meeting was "a very lively discussion" and the president was "very engaged" but said pieces of Biden's proposal are "non-starters for Republicans." He singled out undoing the 2017 tax cuts, calling it one of his "signature achievements of my entire career."
"It would be an almost impossible sell from the president to come to a bipartisan agreement that included undoing (the tax cuts)," Wicker said. "And I did tell him that."
Wicker added that the package should stick to "traditional infrastructure," singling out home caregiving and the reconstruction of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics as items that should be dealt with separately.
"It was a good meeting," he said. "Whether we'll be able to come to a bipartisan agreement that gets as expansive and as massive as he would like to, I don't know."
Padilla said Biden made a "compelling case for why we need to think big and think broadly when it comes to the definition of infrastructure."
"I didn't hear any hard no's. So, I'm encouraged."
Centrist Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a key swing vote in the evenly divided Senate, also opposes Biden's proposed corporate tax hike and has suggested a smaller bump to 25%. Biden last week said he's "willing to listen" to a proposal that goes below a 28% tax rate for corporations but said inaction "is not an option."
"Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain," Biden said in a White House speech last week. "But here's what we won't be open to: We will not be open to doing nothing."
In remarks from the Senate floor Monday, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, accused the White House of engaging in "Trojan-horse tactics" and embarking on a "campaign to convince everybody that any government policy whatsoever" is infrastructure.
McConnell called Biden's plan "a motley assortment of the left's priciest priorities" that would impose "one of the biggest tax hikes in a generation when workers need an economic recovery."
"It's not remotely targeted toward what Americans think they are getting when politicians campaign on infrastructure. But instead of coming up with a better bill, Democrats have decided it's the English language that has to change."
After a ruling last week by the Senate parliamentarian, Biden and Democrats could seek to pass the American Jobs Plan with a simple majority in the Senate via budget reconciliation, blocking any attempt at a filibuster waged by Republicans. It would mean no Republican votes would be needed as long as Democrats are all on board, mirroring how Biden won approval of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue plan last month.
In negotiations on this bill, Biden's American Rescue Plan, 10 Republicans met with Biden in the White House after proposing a trimmed down $618 billion package. But those talks quickly stalled after Biden wouldn't budge on reducing its size.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden 'prepared to negotiate' with lawmakers on jobs plan