Rep. Jared Golden talks with fellow hikers on the top of Black Mountain in Rumford on Aug. 20, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan caucus that includes U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District has put together a $1.25 trillion infrastructure spending framework in a bid to help salvage faltering bipartisan negotiations.

The House Problem Solvers Caucus proposal comes as President Joe Biden ended his negotiations with a group of Senate Republicans led by West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito. Those senators had offered a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure plan, roughly a third of which was new spending above the “baseline” amount the government would normally spend to sustain current infrastructure.

Biden initially proposed a more than $2 trillion plan, which Republicans said went far beyond their definition of core, physical infrastructure. In negotiations with Capito’s group, the president was willing to go as low as $1 trillion, but he wanted that to be all new spending — although Republicans said Biden told them the $1 trillion could include baseline spending before his staff walked that back.

The Problem Solvers Caucus framework gets much closer to Biden’s demand on new spending at $761.8 billion. And unlike the offer from Capito’s group, it has buy-in from congressional Democrats. However, the bipartisan caucus has not yet included any provisions to offset the cost of its proposal.

The caucus’s framework includes $518 billion for highways, roads and safety; $64 billion for bridges; $155 billion for transit; $120 billion for Amtrak and passenger rail; $41 billion for airports; $26 billion for waters and ports; and $25 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure.

The transit, passenger rail and electric vehicle funding is significantly higher than in the Capito group’s plan. The Problem Solvers framework, however, includes less money for broadband — $45 billion, compared to $65 billion in the last public offer Capito’s group made. It also includes less money for drinking and wastewater — $60 billion, compared to Capito’s $72 billion.

The caucus also proposes funding for several areas that weren’t part of the Senate Republican plan, including $25 billion for connecting green energy sources to the electric grid, $10 billion for nuclear energy, $5 billion for hydrogen hubs, $5 billion for carbon capture and storage, $5 billion for direct air capture and $10 billion for veterans’ housing.

The Problem Solvers Caucus, which has 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans, has been working for the past two months to reach agreement on the scope of a bipartisan infrastructure package. Its infrastructure working group, led by Reps. Conor Lamb, D-Pa., and John Katko, R-N.Y., put together the framework with input from the broader caucus.

In a statement, Golden, a Democrat, said the talks show that “a bipartisan deal to rebuild American infrastructure is possible if congressional leaders and the White House are willing to stay at the table and continue bipartisan talks.”

The co-chairs of the full caucus, Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., have been separately engaged in talks with a bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va.

That group of senators have not yet signed on to the Problem Solvers Caucus framework, but the bicameral group’s proposed spending numbers could end up being similar to the Problem Solvers framework, given Gottheimer and Fitzpatrick’s involvement. Ways to pay for the bill are being negotiated in the bicameral group. It’s unclear if the Problem Solvers would release any offsets separate from that.

Story by Lindsey McPherson. BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.