Biparty infrastructure deal likely doomed, alas

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Oh, you sweet summer kids.
Photo: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

Thursday afternoon at the White House was a beautiful moment of golden nostalgia. Republicans and Democrats who brokered a bipartisan deal stood side by side, basking in mutual respect. “It reminds me of when we did a lot of work in the United States Congress,” President Biden said. “What we are showing and demonstrating through this great breakthrough is that bipartisanship is possible,” exulted Senator Kyrsten Sinema. “We can achieve good results that really meet the needs of our country. “

Well, maybe. But in the cold morning light, it seems more likely that the deal will ultimately fail, as two-party politics, for the most part, is not possible. (I have to note that I think the bill funds some important priorities, and I hope it gets passed, but I find it hard to believe that it actually will.)

Hours after the White House press conference, the Conservatives began to show strong opposition. The source of their anger is that Biden promised Progressive Democrats that he would take another step, increasing social spending and raising taxes for the rich, as well as the infrastructure deal.

“This is extortion! I’m not going to do that, ”cried Lindsey graham. “Democrats are told you can’t pass your bipartisan labor product off unless you sign what the left wants, and I’m not playing that game.” Mitch McConnell immediately began pouring cold water on the deal, and the conservative media voiced relentless opposition.

Why would McConnell and most party members sit largely in silence while allowing their caucus members to negotiate a popular deal, only to then denounce it? The reason many of them tolerated the bill in the first place is because they thought it would reduce the chances of Congress passing a second bill. “Some Republicans,” explains the Wall Street Newspaper Editorial page, “Hopes that the bipartite agreement will make it more difficult to pass a reconciliation bill by removing popular infrastructure elements.” (The NewspaperThe editorial page of tends to echo McConnell’s beliefs and spoke out strongly against the deal.)

This tactic made perfect sense to them. McConnell has strong political preferences for taxing the rich – he would never take even a single penny more on the tax bill of the richest person in the country – and weak political preferences for infrastructure, which ‘he can take or leave. A strategy of letting moderate Democrats satisfy their need to spend on an unfunded infrastructure bill by taxing the rich, in the hope that they no longer feel the need to support Democratic social spending financed by tax hikes, was a shrewd game. .

Democrats blew this strategy up by pushing the Democratic social spending bill 50 votes ahead of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Now the infrastructure must be self-sufficient and cannot be used as a wedge to distance Manchin and Sinema from their colleagues.

The Republican public argument is that to tie the two bills together represents betrayal. The position that parties can only work together if the majority party refuses to pass partisan bills is not a position supported by Republicans when they held a majority. Moreover, the Democrats never made such a request when they were in the minority. In Donald Trump’s first two years, Republicans worked on partisan legislation to cut taxes for the rich and repeal Obamacare, while Democrats negotiated (unsuccessful) immigration reform deals and then drafts. successful laws to provide COVID relief.

The Democratic Party’s view was that reaching bipartite deals could work on a separate track from partisan legislation. The parties would fight over issues on which they disagree and cooperate where they agreed. McConnell has always treated Democratic partisan legislation as some kind of offense that forces all-out war in retaliation.

McConnell’s calculation may be cold, but it’s probably not wrong. He has been admirably clear about his strategy in the past. “It was absolutely essential that everyone be together because if the supporters of the bill could say that he was bipartisan, it tended to make the public understand that everything was fine, they must have understood it,” he said. he declared. said to New York Time in 2010. “We have worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” he said. the Atlantic in 2011, “because we thought – and rightly so, I think – that the only way the American people would know that a big debate was going on was if the measures weren’t bipartisan.” When you hang the “bipartisan” label on something, the perception is that the differences have been resolved, and there is broad agreement that this is the way to go. “

The rule is that Public demonstrations of bipartisanship help the outgoing president. The exception to this rule is private bipartisanship, which is why McConnell accepted “Secret congressDeals between the two parties, who work almost entirely behind the scenes and attract little media attention. A bipartisan Rose Garden ceremony was a price he would be willing to pay if it had the benefit of reducing or possibly killing Biden’s social agenda.

But now, this bipartisan ceremony is at all costs, without benefit. His incentive is to kill him. He doesn’t need to take all of the Republican senators with him, as long as he can contain defections of less than ten.

The fate of this bill appears to pit Washington’s cooperative spirit, proving that the system still works, against McConnell’s calculation that his incentive is to make it fail. I’d bet on McConnell.

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