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Gov. Hogan hosts centrist summit to discuss alternative ideas for federal infrastructure package

Over a buffet of crab cakes at the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, several groups of mostlymoderate national politicians hashed out ideas for a bipartisan counteroffer to President Joe Biden’s proposed infrastructure and jobs package.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who’s sought to burnish his moderate political credentials, hosted the two-day meeting that featured two fellow governors — Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and Ralph Northam of Virginia, both Democrats — as well as nearly two dozen members of Congress from both parties.

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Biden is expected to make the pitch for his expansive plan, which comes with an estimated price tag of more than $2 trillion, in his first speech to Congress next week. The Democrat’s administration has argued the blockbuster proposal will deliver badly needed improvements to the country’s physical infrastructure, boost the economy and fight climate change by speeding the country’s shift to renewable energy.

But Hogan and most of the centrist-minded lawmakers the governor gathered in Annapolis are preparing to push for a slimmer plan that’s more tightly focused on roads, railways, ports and powerlines.

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The group largely agreed that infrastructure package “should be developed and passed with the support of both Democrats and Republicans,” said Hogan, and “must be focused on physical and digital infrastructure” — an apparent shot at the Biden administration’s inclusion of other economic priorities, including climate change initiatives and investments in schools and care for seniors, in their infrastructure proposal.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a politically moderate West Virginia Democrat who’s become the swing vote in the evenly divided U.S. Senate, said the overnight visit to Annapolis allowed lawmakers to hash out an approach to trying to cut Biden’s plan down to its most popular portions.

“There’s not a greater common cause than infrastructure,” said Manchin. “If we can’t come together on infrastructure in the most toxic atmosphere we’ve had in Washington then we’re in trouble.”

Other politicians making the 30-something-mile trek from Washington included a handful of other senators known for at least occasionally crossing the aisle, including Maine Republican Susan Collins, Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy.

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So too did about a dozen members of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of mostly swing-district politicians who try to steer a centrist course in the majoritarian U.S. House of Representatives. The group is closely aligned with the centrist political advocacy group No Labels, which Hogan co-chairs with former Connecticut Sen. Joe Liebermann, an independent.

Just before joining Hogan for a press conference on the lawn in front of the governor’s mansion, the Problem Solvers Caucus put out a report pitching a hike of the federal gas tax as a way to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a conservative Republican and close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also made the trip. Cornyn sharply criticized Biden’s proposal but suggested last week that Senate Republicans sign on to package that’s both far smaller — no more than about $800 billion — and stripped of Biden’s proposed corporate tax hike that’d pay for it.

Manchin and several others complimented the Government House kitchen staff on the crab cakes apparently served throughout the retreat, calling them “the best Maryland crab cakes I’ve eaten in a long time.” A couple congressmen said they’d packed a box to take back to Washington.

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