A group of four GOP Senators released this week a two-page outline of their infrastructure plan of $568 Billion, countering Biden’s massive $2.3 trillion plan. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) argues that this bill would “rebuild our infrastructure without raising taxes or increasing the debt” and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) claims that “we are putting a good faith infrastructure plan on the table and are ready to begin negotiations with President Biden”.
The proposal would spend $299 billion in roads and bridges, $61 billion in public transport systems, $20 billion in rail, $35 billion on drinking water, $13 billion on safety, $17 billion on ports, $44 billion on airports, $65 billion on broadband infrastructure, and $14 billion on water storage.
Republican sponsors claim that their entire plan is devoted to infrastructure, instead of Biden’s more expansive proposal that also touches issues that are not traditionally considered infrastructure. The GOP plan does not expand the “welfare state as Democrats have proposed,” said Sen. Toomey.
As of now, Democrats have had some mixed reactions over the proposed Republican legislation. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that while there are many “details to be discussed”, the administration is willing to debate with Republicans the possibilities of negotiating some terms on the infrastructure bill even opening the possibility that some “smaller packages” might get passed with bipartisan support
Some other Democratic senators have also expressed some sort of approval over the GOP’s bill. “I think it is a starting point for discussions”, said Sen. Warner (D-VA). Other Democrats have expressed their strong opposition to the bill. Sen. Cassey (D-PA) called it a “slap in the face”, and progressive powerhouse Sen. Sanders (VT-I) said the plan was “totally inadequate”.
Does the infrastructure plan of $658 billion stand a chance?
While the GOP holds a significant number of seats in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, they are still the minority party and do not hold any political power on the legislative process. Democrats, on the other hand, hold the congressional majority and the presidency, meaning that it is up to them whether or not any GOP plans are adopted in the broader infrastructure bill.
The GOP’s infrastructure plan of $568 billion basically sets the initial price tag that some Republicans are willing to accept for passing a bipartisan bill, the real final bipartisan bill (if there is any) would most likely differ from this initial plan.
If a single Democratic Senator defect, then Biden will need to find another Republican to switch sides in order to keep their legislation alive, something that is far easier said than done, meaning that Biden has almost no margin of error when trying to get legislation through Congress.
On the other hand, if Biden manages to get a bipartisan coalition on board with some kind of infrastructure bill, then he most likely would have increased his margin of maneuver on the floor of the Senate. Additionally, Biden only needs enough for the bill to survive a vote in the Senate.
After the Parliamentarian’s decision that the Senate can still pass one reconciliation bill more would probably reduce the amount of Republicans that Biden needs to join his side, as he will not have to worry about having to defeat a filibuster motion. Although the point of using reconciliation again this year might put off some Republican Senators who might consider voting for the measure.
A bipartisan(ish) bill would also be a political win for Biden, as he would be able to tell the American electorate that he completed one of his campaign promises and brought back the country.
If Biden is really willing to get bipartisan support on the bill, he would then try and convince some receptive Republican Senators by listening to their policy demands and probably including some of their pet projects on their state in the bill. Will he be willing or able to do this with enough Republican Senators? Will the most radical wing of the party even allow him?
The challenges of a bipartisan bill
The same thing that might help Congress to pass any legislation in a bipartisan way also gives way for the most radical parts of the governing coalition to sabotage the process and try to force Biden to ignore Republicans and pass a bill that is only supported by Democrats through the Reconciliation process.
This approach also has some possible electoral advantages for both Republicans and Democrats. If the bill is only supported by one party, then it becomes cannon fodder for the 2022 midterm, with Democrats being able to use the bill in their favor during the campaign, while Republicans using the partisan costly legislation as a rallying point for their base.
A bipartisan bill could also potentially endanger those Republicans or Democrats who supported it, as they could be challenged in the primaries by more uncompromising candidates who would accuse them of bowing to the corporate/socialist interests (depending on the primary) of the other side.
Another issue that could certainly tank the negotiations is that of climate change, as Democrats will be pushing for financing more green technologies (like electric cars), while Republicans might be wary of including those types of provisions on an infrastructure bill. For example, the Republican proposal clearly states that any federal aid to electric cars should contribute to revenue generation.
Finally, the fact that the Parliamentarian has opened the door of using reconciliation for the bill reduces the costs of failed bipartisanship. If Biden finds himself in a position where he is giving away more than he would like, then he can easily leave the negotiations and focus his energy on convincing Democrats (especially Manchin and Synema) to support his bill, instead of giving away to Republicans demands.
Infrastructure spending remains an issue that is widely supported by the American public, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll finding that 79% of Americans support government action at overhauling the current system of roads, highways, railroads, etc.
Trying to find a bipartisan agreement on infrastructure remains a very difficult possibility, as there are many political incentives not to do so. It might be very naive, but if politicians can’t agree on paving roads and repairing bridges, how are they supposed to agree on anything else?