Joe Biden will consider a framework for a bipartisan infrastructure deal on Thursday, after a group of lawmakers (five Democrats and five Republicans) managed to agree on the scaffolding for some $559 billion in new spending after days spent negotiating with White House aides.
The price tag is, of course, well short of Biden’s original plan, but since negotiations with Senator Shelley Moore Capito fell through, the infrastructure push has proceeded along two tracks. Apparently, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will support any bipartisan deal that receives Biden’s blessing while resorting to budget resolutions to push through the remainder of the White House’s fiscal agenda, which totals some $4 trillion in all.
The bipartisan plan would raise revenue without higher taxes on the middle class (a non-starter for Biden) and without reversing the Trump tax cuts for businesses (a GOP red line).
The new spending is part of a $1.2 trillion, eight-year package, but there’s still palpable consternation on both sides. Republicans are lukewarm, at best, on additional federal spending after last year’s bonanza and Progressives aren’t enamored with the idea of adopting a patchwork approach when Democrats control both chambers.
As Bloomberg put it Thursday, success on the bipartisan infrastructure deal “will hinge on whether Progressive Democrats in the House and Senate are assured that their priorities are met in a separate, more expansive package that would use reconciliation to clear the Senate without needing GOP votes.”
The New York Times echoed that in their coverage, writing that, “Progressive Democrats in the House and the Senate, along with liberal activists, have complained publicly in recent weeks that Biden’s negotiations with Republicans toward a bipartisan deal risked stranding much of the agenda he campaigned on.”
Even the staunchest Republicans among you can probably sympathize. Not with Biden’s agenda, of course, but with some Democrats’ complaints about the process. When you control both chambers plus the White House, you’d expect the president to take a hard line and wield the leverage at his disposal.
And yet, Biden’s reluctance to openly countenance an end to the filibuster means Joe Manchin and, to a lesser extent, Kyrsten Sinema, wield what amounts to a veto over their own party’s agenda. If you considered this situation in a vacuum, removing it from the current context and redacting all names (people and parties) so that partisan bias doesn’t affect your assessment, it would seem objectively absurd to any observer, regardless of party affiliation, income cohort or education level.
If you Google “Joe Manchin bipartisanship,” the headlines aren’t flattering. “Joe Manchin, at the apex of his power, finds few allies in his quest for bipartisanship,” reads one. “Opinion: Why Manchin’s defense of bipartisanship is a canard,” says another. And another: “Why Joe Manchin’s Belief in Bipartisanship Is Foolish.” And still another (the subtitle on a CST piece): “In a democracy, the minority party is not supposed to run the country.”
Mitch McConnell may as well still be Senate Majority Leader. Manchin is the new Mitch. And while he may be enjoying the power he wields, Manchin is dangerously close to being seen as naive. “Manchin named most bipartisan Senator for third year in a row,” a press release on his website proudly touts. Right under that in Google’s search results is the following headline, from Politico: “Manchin: ‘All the confidence in the world’ for bipartisan infrastructure deal.” And then another: “As his voting rights proposal stalls, will Joe Manchin’s dreams of bipartisanship ever come true?”
I hope this isn’t lost on Joe, but he’s being played for a fool by Republicans.
Some of this is Biden’s fault for not giving Manchin an ultimatum (I’m not sure what that would sound like, but Trump certainly came up with plenty when he needed them), but most of it is structural.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: America doesn’t have a functioning legislature. “Inefficient” is woefully insufficient as an adjective to describe the perpetual gridlock inside the Beltway.
Lawmakers are supposed to make laws. For a lawmaker to not make laws should be a contradiction in terms. But the sad, miraculous paradox of American politics is that voters are surprised when lawmakers do make laws. The raison d’être of US politicians isn’t to get things done. Rather, it’s to keep members of the other party from getting things done. With Joe Manchin, we’ve reached the pinnacle of democratic inefficiency: A lawmaker whose job it is to stymie his own party’s agenda.
I’m not advocating for autocracy. America tried that, and it didn’t work. Although, to be “fair” to the world’s autocrats, that may have had more to do with ineptness on the part of America’s would-be authoritarian than with autocratic governance as a concept. (That’s dark humor — it’s not meant to be taken seriously, or as an endorsement of authoritarians.)
In any case, the Times summed up the state of Biden’s agenda on Thursday, writing that,
Democratic leaders in Congress are preparing to move a sweeping, multitrillion-dollar bill through the reconciliation process to approve spending on physical infrastructure, education, emissions reduction, child care, paid leave, antipoverty efforts and more. Some liberal lawmakers have pushed for assurances that Democrats have the votes for such a package — which could cost as much as $6 trillion over the course of a decade — before agreeing to back a scaled-down bipartisan deal.
Forgive me, but that raises an obvious question: If Democrats are going to push the entire package through in piecemeal fashion anyway, what’s the point of doing a fraction of it with Republicans?
Oh, that’s right: It’s bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship, a slogan Manchin should have emblazoned on his business cards.