Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, walks to the Senate chamber for votes, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 10, 2021. Sen. Collins is working with a bipartisan group of 10 senators negotiating an infrastructure deal with President Joe Biden. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

A bipartisan group of 10 senators wants to use unspent COVID-19 relief money and new fees on electric vehicles as two of the major ways to pay for their eight-year, $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said on Sunday.

The group outlined their plan on Thursday but provided few specifics. It would include $579 billion in new spending but limit it to core infrastructure like roads, bridges and broadband while setting aside social programs and a corporate tax hike favored by President Joe Biden.

It is the latest in a series of attempts to bridge an impasse on the issue between the White House and Republicans. Biden cut off negotiations with Senate Republicans last week, but the new bipartisan group quickly emerged from the sidelines of that deal. A group of 58 House members evenly divided between the parties has put forward its own $1.25 trillion proposal.

Collins, a Republican, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the group has coalesced behind three funding methods: the unused stimulus money, a user fee for electric vehicles that do not pay gas tax and a financing model similar to one used for sewer and water infrastructure.

“There won’t be a gas tax increase and we won’t be undoing the 2017 tax reform bill,” Collins said, referencing her party’s sweeping tax-cut package.

The group may index the gas tax to inflation, however. The tax has not been raised since 1993 and the idea has been raised by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, with some Democrats are open to it. But Biden has rejected the idea of raising taxes on Americans making less than $400,000 annually, which could also doom the electric vehicle fee.

It’s unclear if this proposal will gain any more traction than others that have failed so far, though it has moved beyond those proposals with five Democrats in the group including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who are moderate swing voters in the 50-50 chamber.

The tricky part is paying for such a plan in a way that will satisfy everyone. Biden, who trimmed his initial proposal from a staggering $2.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion prefers the corporate tax hike over user fees such as gas tax hikes and tolls that business groups have long argued for. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District pointed to increased IRS enforcement as a potential way to fund infrastructure last week.

White House officials met on Thursday with Democratic senators working on a bipartisan agreement. “Some questions still need to be addressed, particularly around details of both policy and pay-fors,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said.

Cabinet members and senior White House staff will “work with the Senate group to answer those questions as we consult with other Members in both the House and the Senate,” Bates said.

Bloomberg News writer Erik Wasson contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...