President Biden and Senate Republicans face what could be a make-or-break week in their efforts to find bipartisan agreement on a bill to build or repair America’s infrastructure, with an informal deadline barreling close and a wide gap remaining between the parties on how much to spend, what to spend it on and how to raise the money to pay for it.
Both sides have talked of Memorial Day as a point at which they will know whether any agreement is possible, or if negotiations will break down. That would leave Democrats to try to go it alone to advance Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda via the budget reconciliation process, which allows certain tax and spending measures to bypass a Senate filibuster. After weeks of discussions, the administration and Republicans have moved slightly closer to each other. But their fundamental dynamic remains unchanged.
Democrats still want to spend far more than Republicans do, on a much wider range of initiatives. Conservatives in the Senate want to confine the bill to a few areas that have enjoyed bipartisan appeal — at least rhetorically — in Washington in recent years, including spending on highways, bridges and broadband internet.
Mr. Biden wants to go further. In a counteroffer to Republicans on Friday, his administration laid out nine areas where they said Republicans needed to be willing to spend, or spend more than they have offered, in order to make a deal. That includes money for clean energy investments that could help combat climate change and for part of what the administration calls “human infrastructure”: home health care for older and disabled Americans.
Republicans are pushing Mr. Biden to trim his ambitions. “We, Republicans, tend to define infrastructure in terms of roads, bridges, seaports and airports and broadband,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “The Democratic definition seems to include social programs that have never been considered part of core infrastructure.”
Business groups have been urging the administration to drop some spending plans — while pushing Republicans to go further than they have been willing to thus far. But even if the sides agree on a spending scope for the bill, they will then need to figure out how to pay for it.
Mr. Biden has proposed tax increases on corporations to fund his jobs plan, which Republicans say are a nonstarter. Some Republicans and business leaders have been surprised by Mr. Biden’s refusal to consider their proposed alternative: raising the gas tax, or other fees assessed on people who use improved infrastructure. Mr. Biden has said he considers such increases a violation of his pledge not to raise taxes on people earning less than $400,000 a year.
An alternative that neither side has embraced fully in negotiations, but that some business leaders have pushed, is to simply fund the spending through government borrowing. That would be the case if, as Republicans want, Mr. Biden agreed to repurpose some of the money from his deficit-financed $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill to fund infrastructure — or if, as some Democrats have suggested, Mr. Biden were to reverse his promise to pay for the spending and instead take advantage of low government borrowing costs to fund any deal.
McDonald’s, Chipotle and Amazon are all raising pay as companies try to fill jobs faster than they can find workers. Airplane tickets and hotel rooms are becoming more expensive as demand rebounds thanks to newly widespread vaccinations. Supply shortages are making it tougher to buy a house or a new car.
Republicans look at the economy and see a political liability for the Biden administration. Inflation is taking off, they warn, and worker shortages are threatening the viability of long-suffering small businesses.
President Biden and his advisers assess the same set of conditions and reach a vastly different conclusion. The dislocations that are causing prices to rise quickly are likely to be temporary, they say. And while both the speed of the economic snapback and the power it has conferred on workers have come as something of a surprise, White House economic officials see a lot to like in the evolving trends.
The Federal Reserve likewise sees its policies — rock-bottom interest rates and monthly purchases of government-backed debt that are fueling lending and spending — as helping heal the labor market and the overall economy. Its top officials have maintained that the period of higher inflation expected this year will be temporary.
Critics, including some liberal economists, look at the confidence coming from the White House and the Fed and see a risk: that policymakers will be too slow to change course in the face of a fast-changing backdrop. If companies continue to struggle to find workers and prices shoot even higher, they warn, the economy could overheat, hurting businesses and consumers and maybe even leading to another recession.
Republicans are also faulting the White House for not ending a more generous unemployment benefit that they say is keeping workers on the sidelines, citing anecdotes from business leaders around the country. At least 21 Republican-led states have already announced they will cease offering the $300 supplement.
The chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, is set to introduce legislation on Monday to ban political campaigns from guiding online donors into recurring donations by default, a practice that has drawn criticism for luring supporters into making unintended gifts that sometimes total in the thousands of dollars.
The bill’s planned introduction follows a bipartisan recommendation from the Federal Election Commission that Congress act to rein in the practice of prechecking boxes that automatically enlist donors into making repeated donations. The F.E.C. voted unanimously, 6-0, to recommend the change, after a New York Times investigation into the practice showed it led to a surge of refunds and fraud claims from contributors to former President Donald J. Trump.
Ms. Klobuchar, who leads the rules committee that oversees the administration of federal elections, is calling the bill the RECUR Act for “Rescuing Every Contributor from Unwanted Recurrences.” For now, she has only Democratic co-sponsors, including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate leadership and the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Times investigation found that Mr. Trump’s political operation, short on cash, had steered his online contributors into becoming unwitting repeat donors by prechecking a box to withdraw additional donations as often as every week last fall; their solicitations also featured a second prechecked box that was termed a “money bomb.” Over time, the campaign added text, sometimes in bold or all-caps type, that obscured the opt-out language. Soon, banks and credit card companies experienced a flood of fraud complaints.
All told, the Trump operation with the Republican Party refunded $122.7 million to donors who gave through the online processing site WinRed — more than 10 percent of every dollar raised. In contrast, the online refund rate for President Biden’s campaign with the party had been 2.2 percent on ActBlue, the equivalent Democratic processing site.
While the practice of prechecking boxes is currently far more common among Republicans, Democrats have also previously used the tactic. Some prominent Democratic Party committees continue to deploy it. And Mr. Trump has continued the practice in his post-presidency.
Ms. Klobuchar’s legislation would require that all political committees receive “affirmative consent” to take donations, and it explicitly says that prechecked boxes do not meet that requirement.
Over the past year, multiple stimulus measures from the federal government have helped American families buy groceries, pay rent and build a financial cushion. The aid may have also helped start a new era of entrepreneurship.
There has been a surge in start-ups in the United States a that experts have yet to fully explain. But a new study, using data that allows researchers to more precisely track new businesses across time and place, finds that the surge coincides with federal stimulus, and is strongest in Black communities.
Across a number of states, the pace of weekly business registrations more than doubled in the months after the CARES Act was signed in March 2020. Business registrations rose again by 60 percent around the time the supplementary aid package was signed in December.
And after the third wave of stimulus in March, weekly business registrations have been up by 20 percent, though the data is less complete.
The pandemic may signal the end of a slump in entrepreneurship that has lasted for several decades. Steep job losses, a widespread shift in how people work and a big influx of federal spending could prompt the kind of disruption that changes how people think about work and what they want to do with their lives.
For the first time since June of last year, there are fewer than 30,000 new daily coronavirus cases in the United States, and deaths are as low as they’ve been since last summer. In much of the country, the virus outlook is improving.
Nearly 50 percent of Americans have received at least one vaccine shot, and though the pace has slowed, the share is still growing by about two percentage points per week.
“I think by June, we’re probably going to be at one infection per 100,000 people per day, which is a very low level,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” The U.S. rate is now eight cases per 100,000, down from 22 during the most recent peak, when new cases averaged about 71,000 on April 14.
The share of coronavirus tests coming back positive has also fallen to below 3 percent for the first time since widespread testing began, and the number of hospitalized patients has fallen to the lowest point in 11 months, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Translational Institute noted this week.
The United States is reporting about 25,700 coronavirus cases daily, a 39 percent decrease from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Deaths are down 14 percent over the same period, to an average of 578 per day.
Thirty-nine percent of Americans are fully vaccinated. But the U.S. vaccination story varies widely across regions, with New England surging ahead of the national average and much of the South lagging significantly.
In five of the six New England states, more than 60 percent of residents are at least partly vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a different story in the South, where Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee have the country’s lowest rates of residents who have received at least one shot. The rates in those states are all below 40 percent, with Mississippi, at 33 percent, at the bottom of the list.
The virus remains dangerous in communities with low vaccination rates, and getting vaccines into these communities is crucial in continuing to curb the spread. As the virus continues to mutate, vaccines may need to be updated or boosters may need to be added.
Since the C.D.C. issued guidance that said vaccinated people could forgo masks in most situations indoors and outside, states have followed suit.
But cases remain relatively high in a handful of states, including Wyoming, which has reported a 21 percent increase in new daily cases from two weeks ago.
And some cities, like Colorado Springs and Grand Rapids, Mich., are continuing to report high case counts. In Miami, cases have decreased over the past week, but the share of coronavirus tests coming back positive is relatively high, at about 8 percent.
Testing has fallen around the country, fueling concern that cases could be undercounted in places with high positivity rates, like Miami, if people who don’t have symptoms aren’t getting diagnosed.
Although health experts who spoke with The New York Times said that they were optimistic, they cautioned that the virus won’t be eradicated in the United States but would likely instead become a manageable threat, like influenza.
And the longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more time that the virus has to spread, mutate and possibly change enough to evade vaccines.
“My big concern is that there is going to be a variant that’s going to outsmart the vaccine,” said Dr. Thomas A. LaVeist, an expert on health equity and dean of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans. “Then we’ll have a new problem. We’ll have to revaccinate.”
James Gorman contributed reporting.