[Above, The White House takes the infrastructure "debate" to Mitch McConnell's backyard.]
It's not at all surprising that Republicans are using President Joe Biden's willingness to engage them in infrastructure negotiations to drag the process out until it dies under the weight of lost momentum. It's slightly surprising that they are talking about it out in the open, basically gloating over the fact that they've peeled Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema away, coopting them into doing their dirty work.
Minority Whip John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, explained to Politico all about how it's going to work. Republicans agree to spend a lot of money—"a massive amount of new spending on infrastructure"—in order to draw Democratic support away from a potential reconciliation bill coming together on a second track. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have started work on that effort, a way that Democrats can pass Biden's larger agenda without Republicans. Republicans think they can make a deal on physical infrastructure, pull Democratic votes to that, and then pull the rug out from everyone.
"It'll be awful hard to get those moderate Democrats to be for that," Thune said. "The stars are kind of lining up for an infrastructure bill. And if you do do something bipartisan on that, then I think doing something partisan on reconciliation—in some ways, with certain Democrats—it gets a lot harder." Walking right into that trap is Joe Manchin, who declined to say whether he would support a reconciliation bill for the ambitious part of Biden's agenda. He would just say that "there's a lot more that needs to be done, so we need to work it the same way we're working this one."
Note that there's no promise from Thune that in the long run, there will be 10 actual Republican votes for the deal that is supposedly being worked on now by the Sinema-led gang. But he's going to pretend that it could happen, telling CNN "I think there would be substantial Republican support" for a bill that looked something like what some of the group last week said was an agreement. That agreement of course didn't have much in the way of specifics and certainly didn't have a means of raising revenue that is real. Republicans are still talking about putting fees on electric car drivers—which would raise a tiny fraction of what's needed—and stealing money from COVID-19 relief, which has been rejected already by the White House.
Note also that Mitch McConnell hasn't actually said whether he supports these negotiations, lending more credence to the theory of a trap. Never mind that he's already made clear exactly where he stands: "100% of my focus is on stopping this new administration … 100% of my focus is on standing up to this administration." If he doesn't say anything about this specific effort, everyone can continue on with it as if McConnell would allow it to actually happen. As if he weren't poised to upend the whole enterprise at the last minute.
Democrats do seem to get what's going on here. For example, liberal Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says they would need an "irrevocable" commitment from the moderates—the Democrats in Sinema's "gang"—to agree to use budget reconciliation for a larger bill. Blumenthal considers what he's seen from the gang "very, very paltry and disappointing" and said he's "running out of patience" over all this bipartisan foot-dragging. If, however, there's an "irrevocable commitment" on the next reconciliation package, then, "I could hold my nose and vote for this package."
Democratic leadership is there as well, apparently. "Will the Democrats who are part of this be with us on reconciliation on what is not included? I think that's an important question. … That's a question that's come up with several times and it's a legitimate question," Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said. One of those five, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, told CNN she would back reconciliation, and believes the others would as well. "It's my understanding that everybody has said that they can support reconciliation in some form. Now the devil is in the details as we know," Shaheen said Monday. That might be overstating things. Manchin has been cagey on the issue, Sinema hasn't spoken publicly about it.
As far as anyone knows, the gang's agreement, that may or may not actually have been agreed to depending on who you ask, includes $1.2 trillion over eight years, with just $570 billion in new spending. In the previous failed negotiations between President Joe Biden and Republican Shelley Moore Capito, he set a floor of $1 trillion in new spending. The Senate group would spend $974 million of the total over the first five years on "core, physical infrastructure," would not raise taxes, and "[m]any of the specific details still need to be ironed out."
The White House has informed the Senate "gang" that they have just a week to 10 days to come to some kind of deal. That's plenty of time for Republicans to blow this all to hell, especially since we're just a few weeks away from recess for July 4 and then August.
Republished with permission from Daily Kos